It seems inevitable that pianist-composer Satoko Fujii and guitarist-composer Otomo Yoshihide, two of the most influential and critically acclaimed figures in Japanese new music, should record together. The surprising thing is it took so long. Their new duo album, Perpetual Motion (Ayler Records, release date: February 9, 2023), is their first performance together, despite the fact that they each emerged as artists in the 1990s. Perhaps that’s the way it was meant to be. With decades of experience between them and fully matured styles, Fujii and Otomo confidently approach their initial encounter and bring the full power of their distinctive personalities to the music. With two such versatile musicians creating together, the music is wide-ranging, uncompromising, and full of surprises.
The concert took place at the annual music marathon that Fujii and trumpeter-composer Natsuki Tamura curate each January at Pit Inn, one of Tokyo’s most prestigious jazz clubs. Over the course of several sets at the club, they showcased various projects, new and ongoing. “It was hard for me to believe that I hadn’t played with Otomo before this album,” Fujii said. “Of course, we knew each other and talked whenever we met. I’m a fan of his music, so last year I got the idea to invite him to play a duet with me. He is very busy but luckily he had the time.”
Fujii was excited to play with a musician who holds such a unique place in Japanese music. “He has many improv projects of his own and has been playing for so many years that I think he has influenced many younger avant-garde artists, not just musicians but also visual artists,” she said. “But also, he has composed many, many film and television scores, so he is known among people who are not interested in avant-garde music.”
Although they had never played together before there’s an immediate chemistry between these two intrepid shapers of sound. The music builds and crests in waves during the course of a continuous improvisation (track titles were added later). But no matter the volume, density, or speed of the music, Fujii and Otomo listen and respond to each other with the same intensity and depth of detail and imagination. It’s a virtuoso display of both subtly and power. They begin quietly with sparse, delicate sounds and plenty of space and silence. They play with texture and color—no two sounds are alike—and it is often impossible to tell who is playing what. Sometimes they fuse their notes into a single rich tone, at other times they offer contrast. But as the title suggests, the music never stays in one place for too long. The more contemplative passages inevitably give way to roiling walls of sound. For instance, “Perpetual Motion II” builds to an impressively energetic crescendo with Fujii’s dense note clusters ranging quickly over the full length of the keyboard and Otomo’s guitar lashing out metallic, sharp-edged phrases at blinding speed. The set climaxes with some nearly telepathic interactions with each player’s chording and lines tightly meshed together.
I will be featuring a track from the album on World of Jazz 566.