Yuko Fujiyama (1954, Sapporo, Japan) first came to my attention through Mark Dresser (CIMP 105, 121) in 1997, when, at his suggestions, I listened to some of her tapes. I was impressed by her clarity of attack, use of space, lyricism, and the lyrical energy edge which permeated the music on its broad plane. She sent me a number of tapes in a variety of settings, not all of which I felt put her and the music in a correct focus. Since this would be her debut recording as a leader, and since there is little body of work available (most notably, her work with the One World Ensemble, Freedom Jazz 1) to develop a strong sense of her artistic personality, I felt a clear focus on her playing and music was particularly important. Despite the number of musicians who seemed eager to work with her and contacted me during the period when Yuko and I tried to work out the logistics of her concert, it was her work with strings, in particular Tomas Ulrich’s cello and Mark Feldman’s violin as evidenced on her demo tapes, which seemed to present the most complete whole and greatest maturity. And indeed, during the time spent getting a sound check and audio balance for this concert, it was obvious that these 3 fell into an easy rapport and balance; 3 very different personalities who musically know as much about what they want by knowing what they don’t want.
Yuko was originally trained in classical music. She gave that up at 19 and went to school to learn Jazz. She says she was not considered very good, but knowing what you want and fitting into the academic mind-set of a traditional tutorial situation can be a subjective clash and an objective wash. By 1980, discouraged and unable to find satisfaction as either a classical or Jazz pianist, she sold her piano to finance her trip to the United States. Up until this point, her favorite pianists were Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell and she was unaware of the Free Music scene. Then, one day, while looking for an apartment in New York City’s East Village she came into a building which happened to house Jerome Cooper. Cooper happened to be listening, with his door open, to a Cecil Taylor tape. She was “knocked over” and spent the entire day, at Jerome’s invitation, listening to Taylor tapes. And it has been from that point on that Yuko found the direction and satisfaction to sustain her interest as a pianist.
This was my first professional encounter with Mark Feldman (1955, Chicago) and telling reports of his dark and sardonic sense of humor which preceded our meeting were accurate. Also accurate was the outstanding musicianship which he had displayed on a number of recordings he had made as a sideman. He is a virtuoso and it allows him the freedom to musically realize his imagination. That, and his attentive listening, as an orchestrator, to the whole give his contributions here a particular exactness.
Tomas Ulrich (Columbus, OH, 1958) (those are his shushing intakes of breath you can often hear) has brought his soul to a number of CIMP recordings (#s 119, 141, 155, 162). He is soultaneously explosive and has repeatedly proven his depth whenever I’ve had the pleasure of working with him.
This music materialized quite naturally, after a brief tentativeness. One cannot help but be impressed by its substance. For example, “Pep Talk” and “A Southern Island” were played back to back and present, just in themselves, a substantive hunk of music, improvised or otherwise.
Passionate and beautiful, listen openly and enjoy this impressive debut.
Robert D. Rusch - 6/16/98