January 6, 2019
Libra Records 204-048
Alister Spence/Satoko Fujii
Alister Spence Music ASM 007
September 2017 was a busy time for Alister Spence and Satoko Fujii. Continuing their collaboration which had begun in 2007, Fujii, the Japanese pianist who sometimes seems to be part of as many bands as Donald Trump sends tweets, and Spence, the Australian keyboardist, known for his groundbreaking take on the jazz piano trio with his inside-outside group, were not only in the midst of a Japanese tour, but also recorded these quality CDs within five days of one another. Bright Force is another from the Kira Kira quartet, which features the two plus trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and drummer Ittetsu Takemura, while Intelsat is one of the duo’s duet sessions. Although each is more than proficient on clavier and electronics, Fujii sticks to the piano on both discs and Spence improvises on electric piano, effects pedals and preparations.
On their own the two work out a simple performance strategy during that CD’s seven tracks. While Spence moves among electronic inputs, Fujii doesn’t just stick to the acoustic piano’s keyboard, but instead frequently batters, stops or strums the instrument’s internal string set or pummels its external wood for percussive effects. There’s a defining instance of this on “Paaliaq” as Fujii’s chording scoots inside and outside the piano as Spence’s playing is contrapuntally expressive with squeaking flange and oscillated twitters. Distinctive, these disruptions include tabla-sitar-like pacing to noisy, amplified clatters. The latter outburst forces Fujii to maintain the processional theme with powerful key strokes.
Variations of this balanced interaction play out throughout the concert disc with “Narvi”, the over-22-minute second track expressing this arrangement at its greatest length. Alternately spiky and sympathetic, the electronic granular synthesis propels jagged tremolo lines that hook into soundboard shakes and piano-harp plucks from Fujii. Although these crackling, steam-whistling and clanging tones up the performance’s excitement level, by mid-point it’s still Fujii’s chromatic iteration that establishes the defining theme. Weightiness gives way to wispiness and by the conclusion an echoing, almost dainty, piano melody is maintained, despite bubbling craggy burbles and motor-driven crunches that arise from low-pitched electronics.
Five days later the plump or dyspeptic elevated timbres worked out by the two as a duo became part of a sonic mosaic with additional ballast in the form of serrated, high-pitched growls from Tamura’s trumpet and an assortment of drum and cymbals missives from Takemura’s kit. Often dark and always intense, the five tracks are usually based around narrative-establishing solos from the pianist. This is particularly obvious on “Nat 4”, where Fujii rolls through a veritable catalogue of keyboard licks, uniting Jaki Byard’s drive, Earl Hines’ showmanship and Cecil Taylor’s kinetics. Tamura’s shaded grace notes provide an almost human vocalized counterpoint, while Spence’s phrase-rolling creates not only a solid continuum, but also a ring modulator-like mechanical challenge, leading to a brass and percussion finale consisting of steadily escalating pitches that complete the piece’s sinewy connections.
Besides that, the performance is filled out with the nearly 35½-minute three-part “Luna Lionfish”, which gives each quartet member enough space to make an indelible impression. Using formalistic piano pops and splayed keyboard preparations as reflective signposts on “Luna Lionfish 2”, the remaining exposition could be a flutter-tongued trumpet concerto, Both alluring and amusing, Tamura’s output encompasses Bubber Miley-like plunger action, strained half-valve slurs and open horn blasts, and it’s cunningly challenged by drum clip-clops and piano glissandi plus oscillated electric keyboard chording. Succeeded by what, except for deceptive rumbles, could be a precise piano recital a personified by Fujii, the exposition on “Luna Lionfish 3” quickly evolves from straight-ahead to near atonality. Winding down with strummed and bonding harmonies from Spence’s keyboard, the tune finally wraps up conga-drum-like hip hop beats from Takemura, swift trumpet shakes and descending piano runs into a well-thought-out coda.
Alone together or with additional input from other musicians, Spence and Fujii easily make the case for eventful keyboard cooperation.
Track Listing: Intelsat: 1. Mimas 2, Narvi 3. Telesto 4. Fenrir 5. Paaliaq 6. Dione 7. Methone
Personnel: Intelsat: Satoko Fujii: (piano) and Alister Spence (Rhodes electric piano, effects pedals and preparations)
Track Listing: Bright; 1. Because Of the Sun 2. Nat 4 3. Luna Lionfish 1 4. Luna Lionfish 2 5. Luna Lionfish 3
Personnel: Natsuki Tamura (trumpet); Satoko Fujii: (piano) Alister Spence (Rhodes electric piano, effects pedals and preparations) and Ittetsu Takemura (drums)