Satoko Fujii / Taiko Saito: Beyond

John Sharpe BY

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Satoko Fujii / Taiko Saito: Beyond
Right from the off, the confluence of grainy flicker and humming drone signals that Beyond won't be like other vibraphone/piano hook ups. Under the moniker Futari, Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and her Berlin-based countrywoman vibraphonist Taiko Saito don't so much take the road less traveled as revel in the thickets, brambles and unexpected clearings discovered when they veer off map. Across nine cuts captured in a studio session during a tour of their homeland, they commune in a texture-based syntax of their own design.

While such invention might be anticipated on the two improvs which bookend the program, it also pervades the seven charts, six from the pen of Fujii and one from Saito, which make up the bulk of the album. By this stage Fujii is a known quantity, a prolific composer and improviser with over 100 leadership credits to her name, who has excelled in almost every conceivable format. Saito however has less exposure, though she studied and played in Tokyo with the great Keiko Abe and in Berlin with David Friedman, as well as pursuing her own projects, such as KOKO with German jazz pianist Niko Meinhold.

Saito's no holds barred attitude provokes one of Fujii's most adventurous outings, delving as often inside the piano as addressing the keyboard. Separated by geography, and with only limited rehearsal time, the written elements come balanced by the rawness engendered by a spontaneous approach. In the tension between notation and freshness, the date recalls Mantle (Not Two, 2020) by Fujii's trio with trumpeter husband Natsuki Tamura and Spanish drummer Ramon Lopez.

The timbral language of the duo is one of its strongest characteristics, affirmed by the choice of the title track, created as it is from strummed strings, bowed shimmer, spare chords and the merest murmurs, creaks and groans extracted from the vibraphone. Such space also plays a major role elsewhere, notably in "Mizube" with its series of gestures cleaved by silence, and the chiming sonorities amid the high theater of "Mobius Loop." On the former Saito also draws a hollow chuckling ring from her instrument which doesn't seem possible, evidence of a technical prowess lightly worn.

While the compositional markers often appear in skeletal guise, at times they nonetheless arrive fully formed, as in the rolling vamp, loose syncopation and contrapuntal lines of "On The Road," and the delicate Erik Satie-like lilt contrasted with a faster staccato section on "Ame No Ato," which itself frames a flailing free episode. That's testimony to the fact that nothing develops in expected ways. The only constant is unusual tonality, inspired interaction and unpredictable structure. It's as if jagged peaks are shrouded by a swirling mist which only intermittently reveals the solid forms it encloses. Futari defies expectation and cloaks even the familiar in an air of strangeness and mystery. You can't ask for more than that.

Track Listing

Molecular; Proliferation; Todokanai Tegami; Beyond; On the Road; Mizube; Ame No Ato; Mobius Loop; Spectrum.


Satoko Fujii: piano; Taiko Saito: vibraphone.

Album information

Title: Beyond | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Libra Records

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