The pandemic was a productive time for the ever-prolific pianist Satoko Fujii. Along with her venture into virtual recording—most notably in some remarkable long-distance duets with the Berlin-based vibraphonist Taiko Saito—Fujii released a surprising pair of albums simply titled Piano Music and Piano Music, Volume 2. As an instrumentalist, composer, and bandleader, Fujii has been what might be called a forward-looking traditionalist for over twenty-five years of recording. She’s a sharp orchestrator with a gift for melody who has never seemed overly concerned with breaking rules or blurring boundaries. But during lockdown, she explored her home piano inside and out, finding her own voice within often-explored extended techniques. Perpetual Motion is an unexpected next step: It indulges Fujii’s newfound interest in less musical sounds, while inviting her radical counterpart Otomo Yoshihide into her take on convention.
Yoshihide’s brilliant and sometimes brutal discography includes his band Ground Zero’s reworking of Heiner Goebbels and Alfred 23 Harth’s Revolutionary Pekinese Opera and his New Jazz Orchestra’s interpretation of Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch. Often deploying extreme electronics and turntable techniques, he is heard here exclusively on electric guitar. It’s astonishing what a perfect meeting this is. While Yoshihide has certainly traded in pleasantries in the past (his lovely soundtrack to Tian Zhuangzhuang’s film The Blue Kite being just one example), it still turns the head to hear how adeptly he responds to Fujii’s lines. And she, although newer to the noise game, readily steps with him into some ferocious climaxes. The fifty-minute suite, recorded live and in person at Tokyo’s Pit Inn, couldn’t be more satisfying.

Fujii hasn’t abandoned her exquisite conventions, however, and Hyaku, One Hundred Dreams marks, rather amazingly, her one-hundredth release as a bandleader. Fujii has, at times, kept concurrent large ensembles afloat in both New York and Japan, but the live session recorded at DiMenna Center in September 2022 happened during her first visit to New York City since before COVID-19 struck. The seven musicians that join Fujii and her husband and bandmate, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, are truly a dream team: Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet), Ingrid Laubrock (saxophone), Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon), Ikue Mori (electronics), Brandon Lopez (bass), and Tom Rainey and Chris Corsano (drums). Fujii constructs for them a sort of plaza, giving each a kiosk for soloing with a common space in between. It’s a tidy, inviting, and well-executed arrangement and a strong testament to the leader, who at age sixty-four is still sharpening old stones and acquiring new ones.