Monday, June 28, 2010

Extending the Maybeck Tradition

Satoko Fujii and Myra Melford @ Maybeck Recital Hall, Berkeley, CA
Saturday, June 26, 2010

Satoko Fujii: piano, voice
Myra Melford: piano
Larry Ochs: tenor saxophone, sporanino saxophone
Natsuki Tamura: trumpet, voice

Opening with a thin tone from the tenor saxophone of Larry Ochs, the evening of structured improvisations began a set of probing the remarkable resonance of the Maybeck Recital Hall. Quiet textures working a steady crescendo to take full advantage of the audible range available in this large living room.

The capacity audience of reservation-only attendees slanted heavily toward musicians and others "in the know" spoke in reverent awe of the jazz history of the Maybeck House. The famous piano recitals recorded within the lavish living room for Concord Jazz from 1989 to 1995. The artists featured offering a hushed poetry that jazz piano afficianados understand; JoAnne Brackeen, Cedar Walton, Marian McPartland, Roger Kellaway, Hank Jones and Toshiko Akiyoshi - just to name a few. Myra Melford and Satoko Fujii recorded a recital in this same space just a couple of years ago and have returned to continue the evolution of their collaboration. Bringing a sound that is fresh and very much at home with the spirit of legends past.

The improvisations for this particular evening featured taut restraint from each of these potentially explosive players and an impressive range of creative extended technique from the two pianists. Myra Melford applying and removing small magnets to the strings of the Yamaha C 7 grand piano as a quick method of "preparing" and un-preparing the piano while Satoko Fujii applied brushes and plucked the strings from within her own Yamaha S-400.

The formal construction of the pieces presented relied on an interplay and generous use of visual cues between players. Each composition leaving plenty of open space that was carefully left uncrowded. Subtle connections of intimate spontaneity would arise between pairs of players and flashes of each performer's virtuosity would appear as textures reached toward a natural climax. The second piece of the evening featured brief bursts of chant from Natsuki Tamura that wove into the overall texture (that included Fujii's singing voice at times) in surprising ways.

The warmth of the acoustic space was well complimented by the attentive and well informed audience. Attending an event with so many accomplished improvisers in the crowd brings a different energy. Focused listening rarely feels so communal. One hopes that the evening's offering will find its way onto the next recording in the Maybeck lineage.

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