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Minamo: Kuroi Kawa - Black River (2009)

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The astonishing double CD Kuroi Kawa—Black River finds pianist Satoko Fujii and violinist Carla Kihlstedt getting together for a second time, after Minamo (Henceforth, 2007). The earlier recording is comprised of two fortuitous live performances that were stunning in how completely at ease these two performers were with each other.

Exhilarated by their remarkable chemistry, Fujii and Kihlstedt (now called Minamo) wanted to record again, but also wanted to bring something new to the experience. The result is evident on the first CD which is made up of eighteen short improvisations that were given evocative names after the fact. These miniatures, most under four minutes, bristle with intense emotions combined with a playfulness that is endearing. Each piece's brevity is counterbalanced by its compactness, but, like their longer, live cousins, has an innate logic and a flow that is inexorable. While each has its own unique sonic universe, "Kibo—Hope" stands out because Fujii plays accordion and Kihlstedt plays trumpet violin.

The second CD was recorded at the 2008 Vancouver International Jazz Festival and is a must-listen for anyone who appreciates "New Music." It's many influences, including world and classical music, can be heard merging into jazz with complete imaginative freedom, that is given shape by the musicians' lightning reflexes.

While there is some overt dissonance, the somewhat atonal music is held together by Kihlstedt's beautiful, full-bodied tone and mysteriously melodic lines. Fujii, as always, is a bundle of compressed energy, supporting the violin with clusters, arpeggios and fragmented runs. The music sounds completely natural and, at times, almost planned until shooting in surprising directions. Continuous inspiration and communication is the norm, providing a ride that is both hair-raising and deeply satisfying.

Jazz is often described as "playing without a net," creating an atmosphere of danger and exhilaration. The music of Fujii and Kihlstedt is paradoxical. While there is absolutely no preconceived scaffolding (the net)—no melody, progression, scale, rhythm or meter marked by much energy and intensity—there is a calmness that comes from the trust the players have in each other.

Kuroi Kawa—Black River is a supreme example of creative improvised music, and its enormous depth will repay in multiple listens many times over.

Track Listing: CD1: Konoha No Sasayaki -The Murmur of Leaves; Kogane Mushi -Scarab; To Ho - East; Rakuda - Camel; Mado Wo Akeru - Open The Window; Eki Deno Ichi Nichi - One Day at the Station; Suiheisen - Between Sky And Water; Koneko - Kitty; Kagami - Mirror; Kibo - Hope; Tsuchi No Naka - In The Ground; Sora No Naka - In The Sky; Arabesque; Maho No Jyutan - Magic Carpet; Amadare - Raindrop; Yume No Naka - In The Dream; Kamikazari - Berette; Chiheisen - Sky And Land. CD2: Kuroi Kawa - Black River; Aoi Saka - Blue Slope; Murasaki No Natsu - Purple Summer; Akai Kaze - Red Wind; Midori No Shinkiro - Green Mirage; Shropi Arashi - White Storm.

Personnel: Carla Kihlstedt: violin, trumpet violin, voice; Satoko Fujii: piano, accordion, voice.

Record Label: Tzadik

Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde


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