AMN Reviews: Ikue Mori / Satoko Fujii / Natsuki Tamura – Prickly Pear Cactus (2020; Not Two Records)

Prickly Pear Cactus is another silver lining on the cloud that is COVID-19. Sound sculptor Ikue Mori, working from New York, and husband-wife duo of pianist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, working from Kobe, exchanged sound files for a few weeks. Each musician added their own layers atop the offerings of the others, and the result became this album, which was ultimately mixed by Mori.

Fujii has established herself over the last 30 years as being able to improvise at a high level and yet maintain a distinctly classical approach, whether in free jazz or unstructured improvisation. Across literally dozens of albums, quite a few with Tamura, she sets forth dense and edgy melodies as if at a recital. Here, her contributions are similar but morphed by Mori’s shimmering electronics into something new. In particular, Mori’s windswept waves of processed sounds move in and out of the foreground around Fujii’s playing. Tamura’s trumpet provides subtle drones, warbling, and rough textures.

While this is not the first collaboration between Mori, Fujii, and Tamura, Prickly Pear Cactus manages to raise their game to new levels of abstraction even while containing nods toward more conventional notions of musicality. Well done.