One of the most difficult tasks assigned the often luckless reviewer is to try and slap a few words onto a piece of improvised music lasting an hour or more. It isn't just the time factor; delineating forms that find themselves, create themselves even while abandoning their parameters in favor of greener pastures, is a trying and liberating experience, and nowhere so much as on this new disc of dialogues between pianist Satoko Fujii and bassist Joe Fonda. No Squid's Ear reader should need to be introduced to these veteran musicians, so prolific have they been and so warmly have their contributions been received. These 2017 concert recordings serve only to cement further an already deep musical relationship.
Playing piano with a bassist will expose clichés like nothing else, forcing both instrumentalists to raise the stakes, finding new ways to deal with what they thought was familiar. There's a stunning moment about nine and a half minutes into the first piece, "Rick Bevernage," while Fonda is engaged in some of the spirited pizzicato he does so well, in which Fujii chooses to go inside the piano. While there's nothing odd about that, her sustain is both subtle and forceful. Fonda, following her lead, suddenly abandons his rapid-fire repetitions for sparse harmonics, and the whole piece opens up onto an entirely different expressive vista. Beneath it all, there's a hum, which might be feedback, but whatever it is, Fonda finds and begins to improvise around it, leading Fujii to some exquisite melodic and harmonic interplay.
It isn't that the exchange is unique, or rather, it isn't unique in being unique. Mizu is chock full of such moments. A quick listen to the title track's opening will give an idea of just how much fun these two have as Fonda's bowing antics shadow Fujii's crystalline and overtone-drenched pianisms; and later, is that Fujii pushing the bench around?! Yet, none of it, not Fonda's repeated and infectious laughter, not the percussive interplay, not the shared motives and harmonic journeys, prepares for the moment that Fonda, in late Coltrane style, opens his mouth and vocalizes. In a seriocomic instant, the duo becomes a trio, and yet another facet of their musical relationship is revealed. No fan of improvised music should skip this one!
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