Ma-Do, which means 'window' in Japanese, is also the name of pianist / composer Satoko Fujii's acoustic quartet. Featuring an all-Japanese lineup that includes her long-time collaborator (and husband) Natsuke Tamura on trumpet, drummer Akira Horikoshi, and contrabassist Norikatsu Koreyatsu, "Heat Wave," while no less an artistic success than most of Fujii's previous small group recordings, is not a radical musical departure from her other similarly configured quartets with Tamura. In some ways, Ma-Do seems to be an extension, or perhaps a meeting place, of the music produced by her trio with Jim Black and Mark Dresser, and her quartet with Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida. Though the rhythm section will likely be unfamiliar to all but a few, Ma-Do's music is no less intense, fascinating and multi-directional than that of Fujii's other small groups. Suffice it to say that if you are already a Satoko Fujii fan, you will adore this CD. For the uninitiated, this could be a great place to find one's way into Fujii's distinctive and innovative music.
The title track starts off with a trademark sort of Fujii heavy piano riff before chilling out for Tamura's trumpet entrance. His line starts off like a second melody, but quickly digresses into a thoughtful, pensive improvisation that is punctuated by the thunderous opening riff. Fujii's masterful, labyrinthine solo turns rhapsodic as the rhythm section boils off its excess energy. Though Horikoshi and Koreyatsu aren't as distinctive as Jim Black and Mark Dresser, both are world class players who show incredible sensitivity while tapping into a seemingly endless wealth of ideas and techniques. The second track, 'Beyond The Horizon,' with its ever-changing dynamics, multiple themes and lengthy drum and bass solo improvisations would stretch any rhythm section to its absolute limits, yet these fellows carry the whole thing off with consummate grace and artistry. 'Mosaic' is another urgently rhythmic, densely textured piece. Here, Tamura turns in a particularly fiery and incisive solo - his biting tone and near-perfect articulation remind me of Wadada Leo Smith. Tamura starts off 'Ring a Bell' with a wailing, almost Klezmer-like sound - in fact, this odd-metered, Eastern-tinged piece would not be out of place in Masada's set list!
Heat Wave is actually weighted towards the high-energy end of Fujii's musical spectrum. 'Tornado' and 'Spiral Staircase' both conjure quite literal images of their titles. The former is a total maelstrom of energy driven by Fujii's paino and Horikoshi's drums. Tamura seems at their mercy throughout - fluttering, protesting, and screeching like a flock of birds caught up in a whirlwind. 'Spiral Staircase' is an almost cartoon-ish line, punctuated by bass and drum accents at specific intervals - the overall effect is a tiny bit like a speeded-up version of Anthony Braxton's Ghost Trance music. 'The Squall in the Sahara' revisits some of the same manic energy heard on 'Tornado', but the overall feel of this piece is more jazzy, less free-improv.
On the other end of the quartet's energy spectrum, 'Amoeba' is a quiet yet creepy sound-world that emphasizes harmonics and 'small sounds' in a way that recalls the Art Ensemble of Chicago's late 60s recordings. Here, Fujii coaxes some truly odd noises from the inside of the piano, while Koreyatsu (who is also the bassist in Fujii's 'Gato Libre' quartet) generates some spooky groans and drones with his bass bow. Tamura, on muted trumpet, alternately growls and wails like a wounded animal. "Heat Wave" closes with 'To The Skies,' a lovely wistful theme for Tamura underpinned by Koreyatsu's incongruously grinding arco. As in the vast majority of Satoko Fujii's music, these unlikely, disparate, and sometimes willfully contrarian musical choices somehow coalesce to produce a coherent and distinctive artistic statement. Heat Wave is yet another triumph for Fujii, Tamura and, ultimately, for the listener who need only witness this spectacle in utter fascination.