Three quarters of the way through Satoko Fujii's year-long celebration of her sixtieth birthday, she once again moves in an unpredictable direction, this time in the company keyboardist Alister Spence. Having met in Australia in 2007, the two went on to record with the Raymond MacDonald International Big Band the following year. Intelsat marks the second meeting of Spence and Fujii in the year-long fête; their previous release Bright Force (Libra, 2018) was in Fujii's Kira Kira quartet. The Intelsat material was recorded during a 2017 tour in Japan.
Laptop artist Ikue Mori appeared with Fujii on the Libra recordings Aspiration (2017) and Live at Big Apple in Kobe (2018) but for all of Fujii's unconventional music she is not heavily reliant on electronics, preferring to generate unnatural sounds through extended techniques, playing inside and outside the piano. What Spencean accomplished pianistbrings to Intelsat is a stronger presence of electronics along with his own acoustic piano.
The unnerving opener, "Mimas," is an oddly appealing combination of Spence's noises, bells, and gongs and Fujii's faint improvising inside the piano. The twenty-two minute "Narvi" is a mix of acoustic and electronic elements with the latter dominating. The mood is dark and at times approaching a threatening level of intensity. "Telesto" is a driving, complexly textured piece while the acoustic-only "Fenir" is a Spence solo. The fifteen-minute "Paaliaq" is a fine example of Fujii's gift for balancing melody on the precipice of chaos. The closing piece, "Methone" is an ethereal trance that almost floats the collection to its conclusion.
Spence and Fujii share a fascination with creating and performing well outside safety zones, ignoring norms and genres. Across Fujii's many group formations she utilizes a democratic process that allows the music to spontaneously take shape without the burden of expectation. Fujii's is not a laissez-faire approach but one that is guided by an intrinsic understanding between the players and in this case, she often steps back to allow Spence more space. Like so much of Fujii's work, there is little here that compares to other offerings; it is what makes all of her projects so interesting.
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