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«Beyond» / «Futari at Guggenheim House» / «Underground»

Futari (二人, two people in Japanese) is the new and unlikely duo of Japanese prolific pianist-composer Satoko Fujii and Berlin-based vibraphonist Taiko Saito, known from the trio KOKOTOB («Flying Heart», Clean Feed, 2017). Futari released three albums this year, and this duo sounds like it is just beginning to explore its great potential. This duo was 15 years in the making, and going back to the days when Saito met Fujii while she was still a student at the Universität der Künste Berlin and later to the times when Fujii and her partner, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, were living in Berlin. Both Saito and Fujii are one-of-their-kind adventurous and highly imaginative improvisers. Both employ an array of extended techniques in order to expand their palette of sounds and transform their instruments into almost alien sonic entities. It is clear that Fujii found in Saito a musical partner that can navigate her into uncharted sonic territories. But only in 2017 Saito and Fujii finally played together, first in a quartet, Puzzle, featuring percussive dancer Mizuki Wildenhahn, and later in 2019 as a duo. The Three albums tell how Futari keeps enriching its aesthetics.

«Beyond» was recorded on the fourth concert of the duo tour at the Oda Community Center «Subaru» Concert Hall in Ichiko on June 26, 2019. This album emphasizes the thoughtful, serene sides of Futari, and enables Saito and Fujii to explore the timbral qualities of their respective instruments. Futari blends on the opening piece, «Molecular», fragile and sustained vibraphone tones and overtones with percussive prepared piano rattles and create an evocative, poignant texture; play with ritualist, percussive patterns on «Proliferation»; dive into an ocean of hypnotic, ringing overtones on «Todokanai Tegami», created by the bowed vibes keys and prepared piano strings; the minimalist title piece sketches an enigmatic, poetic ambiance; «On The Road», «Mizube» and «Ame no Ato» are the most conventional pieces here, as Fujii and Saito play their instruments without any extended techniques, almost as a jazz duo but with a strong sense of openness and freedom; «Mobius Loop» shifts organically from subtle, ethereal strumming and percussive sounds into an enchanting melody; the last piece «Spectrum» offers another meditative texture that melts the overtones of the bowed vibes with the subtle sounds of the piano into a profound, poetic statement.

«Futari at Guggenheim House» was recorded live a day after «Beyond» in Fujii’s hometown, Kobe, on June 27, 2019. This set is opened with a quiet, ethereal and meditative improvisation where the overtones of the bowed vibes and the gentle rubbing of the prepared piano strings sketch the transparent outlines of this poetic piece and cements its almost alien electro-acoustic ambiance. The following «Aspiration», originally performed in a quartet with trumpeters Wadada Leo Smith and Tamura and electronics wizard Ikue Mori («Aspiration», Libra, 2017), opens Futari’s interplay into conversational and more conformational dynamics. «Todokanai Tegami» keeps its enigmatic and poetic qualities but now blossoms from minimalist and almost silent interplay into a beautiful and mysterious melody. The last three pieces «On The Road», «Mizube» and «Ame no Ito» sound in this set are more open, tense and conversational than on Beyond, often stressing hidden aggressive veins and playful, chasing games.

The recent «Underground» offers a completely different atmosphere, more surreal than the previous live albums. Saito recorded her solo tracks in Berlin in 2018 and added marimba to the vibes, and Fujii recorded her solo tracks at her home in Kobe, Japan in June 2021. Fujii mixed these tracks and Saito mastered them. This studio, manipulated environment, two years after the live sets, allowed Fujii and Saito to reflect on their work so far and to expand even more Futari’s visionary aesthetics. The title piece sounds like a transmission from another planet, pulsating with its very own pulse and subtle spectrum of dark, resonating overtones. «Break in the Clouds» deepens these enigmatic veins and floats within a cloud of sustained vibes overtones and percussive gestures of the prepared piano. «Memory Illusion» captures best the elusive essence of Futari, and the natural manner in which the bowed vibes extend the prepared piano, and vice versa until both instruments become one sonic entity. «Frost Stirring» is a patient, conversational-percussive piece that lets each sound and phrase resonate fully in space. The last «Asayake» tells a dramatic, cinematic story based on repetitive, hypnotic lines. Only twenty minutes long but a rare gem.

Eyal Hareumeni    

Taiko Saito (vib, marimba, bows), Satoko Fujii (p)

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