AMN Reviews: Futari (Taiko Saito & Satoko Fujii) – Underground Volume 1 [Bandcamp]

Futari is the duo of pianist Satoko Fujii and percussionist Taiko Saito on vibraphone and marimba. The music on Underground Volume 1, the first of three installments in a series, comes from their second collaboration; the first, Beyond, was released in 2020. For Underground the two collaborated at a physical distance—something that’s become more or less routine in these times of covid restrictions—but more unusually, also at a distance in time. Saito’s contributions were recorded in 2018 in Berlin, while Fujii made her recordings in June 2021 in Kobe, Japan, where she also mixed the tracks.

Underground Volume 1 is a release with a brief running time, coming in at around twenty minutes. The five pieces are highly atmospheric and largely shaped by Saito’s quasi-electronic drones and timbres, which he produced through the creative use of bowing and scraping the keys and other extended techniques. Fujii’s playing is more pitch-oriented but she also takes an expanded view of the piano’s possibilities, playing directly on the strings or muting them for a staccato, explicitly percussive effect, as she does on the second track, Break in the Clouds. A track like Memory Illusion is based on the sensuality of pure sound unmediated by melodic or harmonic concerns, but Frost Stirring, a performance that sounds like it could have been recorded in real time with both musicians in the same room, is almost entirely pitch-centered, with Saito playing a kind of cadenza in the foreground over Fujii’s thunderously spare piano chords, after which Fujii contributes an entirely apposite and complex counterline. The closing piece, Asayake, brings together the album’s sonic and melodic tendencies by having Fujii’s heavily reverbed piano provide a portentous undertow to Saito’s rapidly pulsing repeated figures on vibes.

Daniel Barbiero