Geoff Leigh / Yumi Hara: Upstream (2010)
The former Yumi Hara Cawkwell is obviously intent on fashioning her own musical territory, if this and her previous Moonjune release Dune (2008), as one half of a duo with the late bassist Hugh Hopperare anything to go by. Her partner here is one-time Henry Cow member Geoff Leigh, whose concentration on the flute for a lot of the music presented here adds a layer of meaning to a shared aesthetic, one in which the meditative is kept at bay for all of the minimal nature of much of this music by an air of unease, as if both performers are acutely aware of the potential risks inherent in music-as-background.
On the opening title track this is only too apparent. The music seems to hang in the air, although the air it hangs in is seemingly fraught with implication, as though the duo's accommodation with the moment has come about only after intense negotiations.
With that in mind, "The Mountain Laughs" charts Leigh waxing as rhapsodically as he does at any point in the program over Hara's negligible keyboard modulations. It's as close to safe as anything here, but the intelligences at work ensure that the music never strays into the merely ambient.
Set against this, the mood of "Stones On The Beach" strikes that balance between the meditative and the unsettling with uncommon grace, its effect aided in no small part by Hara's vocal, in which she intones a lyric penned by Ujo Noguchi, set to music originally titled Ishohara Bushi.
Hara's meandering piano intro to "A Short Night" proves to be the harbinger of more music that flirts with the meditative, even though it turns out to be shot through with a kind of unease, avoiding the merely hypnotic. The duo's poise, more the result of a conflation of musical outlooks than a mere meeting of minds, ensures that the music holds the attention.
"Something About The Sky" underlines that point; the merely incantatory is kept at a distance, even while suggested by Hara's vocal intonations. For all of its aptitude for stasis, various indefinable qualities keep it from being so, even while a rein is kept on the piece's long tones. The result is music that is inscrutable in the distance it maintains between itself and language.
Track Listing: Upstream; The Mountain Laughs; The Strait; Stone Of The Beach; A Short Night; At The Temple Gate; Something About The Sky; Dolphin Chase; The Siren Returns.
Personnel: Geoff Leigh: flute, soprano sax, zither, percussion, nose flute, voice drone, electronics; Yumi Hara: keyboards, vocals.