AMN Reviews: Satoko Fujii and Tatsuya Yoshida – Baikamo (2019; Libra Records)

It has been hard to keep track of Satoko Fujii’s output over the last 3 years or so, with releases coming every month or so.  But this effort, a duet with manic drummer Tatsuya Yoshida, is a standout in the crowded field. The two have dubbed themselves Toh-Kichi, and this is their third release and first in 15 years. Yoshida has also recorded several albums in Fujii’s quartet.

Fujii is a consummately flexible pianist, with her output encompassing a wide expanse of rock, jazz, and classically oriented works. Yoshida, best know as half of the bass/drum duo Ruins, has performed with Koenjihyakkei, Korekyojinn, John Zorn, Fred Frith, Derek Bailey, Richard Pinhas, and Samla Mammas Manna, among many others. He is notorious for being able to generate unusual percussive patterns at a fever pitch from his drum kit. Yoshida brings Fujii into his avant-prog /free-jazz world on Baikamo, with the latter providing angular chords and rapid disjointed rhythms to match the former’s over-caffeinated excursions.

Throughout 16 short tracks – all between 1 and 6 minutes – Toh-Kichi challenges the listener with roles that shift almost as frequently as the time signatures. Fujii can be a percussive pianist, while Yoshida is unafraid to establish a melody (albeit a driving and unconventional melody). Both experiment with lead and backing capacities, as well as the occasional set of extended techniques. Thus, Baikamo cranks up the tension and rarely lets it go. In other hands, this would be a formula for an exhausting listen.  But with Fujii and Yoshida at the helm, the result is pure exhilaration.

Indeed, the most compelling pieces are when Yoshida sets forth a convoluted pattern of beats over which Fujii layers rolling chords and notes. Nonetheless, half of the pieces are unstructured improvisations that somehow end up exhibiting an intentionality that can only come from musicians of this caliber. Highly recommended.