Sapporo Duets
Jazz'halo TS 013

Specializing in solo work, pianist Ryoji Hojito, 42, is one member of Japan's burgeoning improvisational music scene who is relatively unknown in the West. Committed to an expanded range of expression, he intertwines almost traditionally jazzy keyboard phrasing with irritating piano innards by introducing so-called prepared "little" instruments such as bells, rubber balls and squeeze toys to the strings.

Accomplished in diminutive, targeted gestures, he shines in these 10 succinct improvisations, recorded live in his hometown of Sapporo, located on the northernmost of Japans four main islands. Praise for a successful duo, of course, has to be shared with his associate, French bassist Joëlle Léandre, who is unquestionably comfortable in this format. Justly celebrated for her interpretation of New music as well as improv, over the years she has partnered such pianists as Italian Giorgio Occhipinti and Swiss Irène Schweizer, plus British guitarist Derek Bailey, Italian trombonist Sebi Tramontana and German accordionist Rüdiger Carl.

Despite the size of their respective instruments, Léandre is as committed to large movements as Hojito is to small ones. So, within the course of these instant compositions, she plugs the spaces left open from his playing and he does the same for hers. Using only hands, fingers, muscles and voice, Léandre is able to inject an impressive array of emotions into pieces like "4'36"". Scratching basso lines, she'll suddenly jump into the treble clef, or change her quiet, tongue rolling vocalizing to scat singing in a contrived, throaty Satchmo voice. Meantime the pianist is spending as much time squeezing plush toys and compressing notes from what sounds like an accordion or perhaps a chromatic harmonica as hitting the keys. Finally as his attack shifts from worrying, speedy New Thing clusters to a Spanish-tinged dance rhythm, the bassist comes out with some long loping pizzicato lines.

Other times, as on "6'38"", Hojito seems to have loaded his instrument with more hardware than Fred Van Hove, Denman Maroney and Burton Greene combined, to create an echoing mechanical pitch. As he moves from tonal clusters to steady pounding, Léandre extends her scratchy arco excursions.

Not that everything is unfamiliar. Hojito could be an impressionistic Bill Evans on the very straight sounding "6'10'" with Léandre as Scott LaFaro. Suddenly at one point though, an accordion's rumbling reverberations replaces the preceding small, nervous piano notes. She answers them with powerful bass bumps. Elsewhere, balls rolls along the piano innards while glissandos sound and little bells peal, while the four strings of the double bass do perfect imitations of a baroque violin or, more amazingly, a racing car accelerating.

In short, the participants in this duo recital prove that in the right hands, nearly everything sonic can be created with only acoustic instruments.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. 0'16" 2. 2'45" 3. 5'28" 4. 4'36"* 5. 4'36 6. 6'38' 7. 4'46" 8. 6'15" 9. 6'10"* 10. 2'49"

Personnel: Ryoji Hojito (piano, accordion*); Joëlle Léandre (bass)