Futari (二人, two people in Japanese) is the duo of Japanese prolific pianist Satoko Fujii and vibraphonist Taiko Saito. «Underground» is already the third official release of the duo and it collects the three volumes of «Underground»’s pieces, released before by Fujii’s Bandcamp page. The ten pieces were created half a world away from each other, Fujii at her home in Kobe, Japan, and Saito in a studio in Berlin, Germany. Both musicians exchanged musical files over the net, as the Covid-19 pandemic prevented the duo from an in-person reunion tour.
Despite the geographical distance, Fujii and Saith established intimate and even more profound dynamics than previous live releases of Futari. The distance and the time it took both Fujii and Saito to respond, improvise or comment on each other’s challenging approaches and distinct musical ideas eventually contributed to the depth, open and layered outcome of «Underground». The timbral play and the extended techniques of both Fujii and Saito on the opening, title piece blurs the distinction between the piano and the vibes and suggests an enigmatic, haunting soundscape, that sets the contemplative, mysterious spirit of the album. Often, you may wonder who is playing on what instrument, what is composed, layered in a ‘lego-approach’ or spontaneously improvised, or whether Fujii and Saito focused on a resonating sound or a thread of a melody. The open-ended «Finite or Infinite» or the dadaist «One Note Techno Punks» capture – literally – the essence of this album. It does not matter who does what, as long as the outcome is so original and compelling.
«Mosaic», the sophomore album of Fujii’s trio This Is It! (following 1538, Libra, 2018) with husband-trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and drummer Takashi Itani, was recorded in a similar manner. Fujii and Tamura in their tiny practice room in their home in Kobe and Itani 400 miles away in Soka city, a Tokyo suburb, but in real-time in June 2021. The trio rehearsed online several times since the beginning of the pandemic, sharpened its listening gifts and discovered that even if it was not the same as performing and recording in person, it still bubbles over with the joy and the sheer delight of music-making.
The atmosphere of This Is It! is completely different from Futari’s introspective one. It is urgent and restless, and eager to take risks. Itani often challenges and subverts Fujii percussive playing with his inventive playing on congas and other home furniture, while Tamura takes the trio into darker, grittier territories. The explosive opening piece «Habana’s Dream» was inspired by the biography of Che Guevara that Fujii was reading. Itani introduces «Dieser Zug» (this train in German) as a patient and gentle dance, enabling the trio to interlock its ideas with commanding control and balance. «Kumazemi», after a cicada Fujii and Tamura first encountered in Kobe, is a free improvisation that collides Fujii’s insistent clusters, Itani’s inventive and exotic percussion and Tamura’s bluesy runs. «Sleepless Night», conceived during a bout of insomnia, replicates this dark, unsettling experience with a series of sonic searches and experiments. The last piece «76 RH», named after a fairly comfortable humidity in the often sweltering Japan, returns full-circle to the explosive spirit of the opening piece, solidifying the powerful aesthetics of this trio, always ready for more challenges.
Taiko Saito (marimba, vib), Satoko Fujii (p, v), Natsuki Tamura (tp), Takashi Itani (perc, dr)