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S. Fujii & Otomo Y. - Perpetual Motion

Nick Ostrum, The Free Jazz Collective *****


I am hardly the first to be surprised by this. Perpetual Motion captures Satoko Fujii and Otomo Yoshihide in their first collaboration ever at a festival at Pitt Inn in Tokyo. These two titans of the Japanese avant-garde have been at it for decades, separately exploring the far reaches of everything from solo piano outing to orchestral free jazz to Japanoise.

Begins with spare knocking, some feedback here and squeaks there. Then come the waves of sound, a siren from Yoshihide (on guitar, here) and a rumbling from Fujii. This gives way to other distorted strums and that pesky high squeak whose origins remain imprecise. In other words, this is Yoshihide and, surprisingly, Fujii soundsculpting far outside the free jazz tradition that the latter has so convincingly made her own. That contrast between the raw feedback and relentless shredding of Yoshihide, the alternately muscular and tender piano runs of Fujii and their collected tendencies to pull everything back to the underlying understated quaver whence all these sonic possibilities erupt. Chaos emerges at various points, but it is only ever touched upon. Then, the music returns to its brittle starting point.

And it works. Fujii and Yoshihide really listen to each other. Hence, the spaciousness. And, they are responsive, not mimicking lines or harmonizing but shaping complementary aesthetic spaces, while restraining themselves (and each other) when things start to get too stormy. Although each piece has its own direction (Perpetual Motion I is much barer than Perpetual Motion III and IV), one hears these musicians pushing each other into compelling sonic terrain: Fujii comes wither her short, repeated melodic loops that inevitably break into wild runs and, in the final track, menacing low-end rumbles; Yoshihide adds his tripolar swings between heavy distortion, glistening striations and restrained string-by-string plectrum work. The divergent approaches of the two musicians insinuate themselves beautifully into one another.

I absolutely love this record. It is recorded live, and certainly has an energy to it. However, the recording is full and, without any hint of an audience, it sounds like it could be a studio effort. It will likely be both welcomed by and a challenge to anyone already into Fujii and Yoshihide’s work, who will be left, as I was, wondering,: How could Fujii and Yoshihide have waited this long to collaborate when the product is this good?