Pandemic enforcement of geographic separation in no way inconveniences the adventurous combo of pianist Satoko Fujii and vibraphonist Taiko Saito, working together under the banner Futari. Having explored the option of a virtual band on Mosaic (Libra, 2021) by her This Is It! trio, Fujii tries a different approach on Underground, her second album with Saito following Beyond (Libra, 2020). Each recorded their parts separately in their respective residencies, Fujii at home in Kobe in Japan, and Saito 5500 miles away in the German capital Berlin, and then shared the files for the other to add their contribution, resulting in 10 pieces in a program of just over 50-minutes.
Already one of the spikier animals in Fujii's menagerie, Futari remains a creature where the love of sound for its own sake stands as the dominant trait. While that's always formed part of Fujii's expressive armory, engaging with Saito, one of the most free thinking mallet players around, accentuates the tendency even more. As a consequence, this is one of Fujii's most atmospheric outings, often reflective, as full of unconventional noises whose origin is difficult to pinpointscrapes, drones, rattles, glints and shimmersas the expected signatures of piano and vibes. In the absence of melodies or unison passages, the arresting textural contrasts or juxtaposition take center stage.
That results in a range of outcomes, from the metallic ringing, barely audible hum and grainy abrasions which conjure the soundtrack to an ominous dream of the title track, to the sparkling vibraphone figures stark against murky piano reverb on "Frost Stirring." Structural elements feature prominently on occasion, like the stately piano chords embellished with ghostly resonance on "Street Ramp" or the curtain of overtones and vibrant fanfares which recall pealing church bells on "Asayake."
It is Saito who furnishes the more rhythmic moments, with her minimalist repeating patterns on "Finite Or Infinite" overlain by layers of off kilter piano notes, like a demented Tubular Bells, or the dry tapping on "One Note Techno Punks" offset by Fujii's percussive vocal exclamations, an unexpected touch which provides a startlingly human dimension to the fray.
While the means of creation allows less continuous interaction than might normally be the case, there is nonetheless much to savor and enjoy in these richly voiced and surprising sonic landscapes.
Underground; Break In The Clouds; Meeresspiegel; Air; Frost Stirring; Memory Illusion; Finite Or Infinite;
Asayake; Streeet Tromp; One Note Techno Punks.
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