Two giants of the Japanese avant-garde – pianist Satoko Fujii and guitarist Otomo Yoshihide – meet for the first time on Perpetual Motion, out February 9, 2023 via Ayler Records.
Recorded live at the Pit Inn in Tokyo, the concert was the first time these acclaimed musicians had performed together. There’s an immediate chemistry between these two intrepid shapers of sound.
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 , 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 showcase 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.
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Photo by Masao Mizuse
Guitarist-turntablist-composer-record producer Otomo Yoshihide is a pioneering figure in the electroacoustic improvisation scene, and today is a musician and producer, a cross-genre music maker actively performing free improvisation, noise, and pop. In 1991, he released his first album in Hong Kong and performed there as the leader of the experimental rock group Ground Zero. After Ground Zero disbanded, he formed Otomo Yoshihide’s New Jazz Quintet in 2001. In addition to his work as a leader, he has collaborated with electro-acoustic improvisers such as Bob Ostertag, Christian Marclay, Keith Rowe, Sashiko M, Martin Tétreault, and Evan Parker. As a film composer, he has produced over 100 scores for film and television. In recent years, he has been organizing unique conducted improvisation groups, in collaboration both with artists and non-musicians, under the name of “Ensembles.” In 2013, he received the Japan Record Award for his accomplishments, including composer for the theme music for the TV drama Amachan. In 2017 Otomo was appointed artistic director of Sapporo International Art Festival and he currently serves as director of Ensembles Asia.
Pianist and composer Satoko Fujii, “an improviser of rumbling intensity and generous restraint” (Giovanni Russonello, New York Times), is one of the most original voices in jazz today. For more than 25 years, she has created a unique, personal music that spans many genres, blending jazz, contemporary classical, rock, and traditional Japanese music into an innovative synthesis instantly recognizable as hers alone. A prolific composer for ensembles of all sizes and a performer who has appeared around the world, she was the recipient of a 2020 Instant Award in Improvised Music, in recognition of her “artistic intelligence, independence, and integrity.”
Since she burst onto the scene in 1996, Fujii has led some of the most consistently creative ensembles in modern improvised music. Highlights include a piano trio with Mark Dresser and Jim Black (1997-2009), and an electrifying avant-rock quartet featuring drummer Tatsuya Yoshida of The Ruins (2001-2008). In addition to a wide variety of small groups of different instrumentation, Fujii also performs in a duo with trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, with whom she’s recorded eight albums since 1997. She and Tamura are also one half of the international free-jazz quartet Kaze, which has released five albums since their debut in 2011. Fujii has established herself as one of the world’s leading composers for large jazz ensembles, prompting Cadencemagazine to call her “the Ellington of free jazz.” Her 100th album as a leader, Hyaku (Libra), with an all-star octet, made many 2022 Top 10 lists.
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