Duet is a very gratifying artistic collaboration between the inventive Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii, a freethinker who feels equally comfortable playing solo and conducting an experimental big band, and the categorical American bassist Joe Fonda, whose intense, unclouded sound made him be Anthony Braxton’s first choice for many years. These two references of the avant-garde jazz scene had only met once before recording live in 2015.
Aware of their fabulous capabilities to create astonishing sonorities, I wasn’t surprised a bit with the brutal cohesion and communicative freedom achieved during this communion.
The album comprises just a couple of tunes, kicking in with the 37-minute piece “Paul Bley”, dedicated to the masterful pianist mentioned in the title. It takes us on a challenging journey of multiple sectional changes and explorative excursions where we can still have a glimpse of the honoree’s music. The artists are in absolute command of texture, timbre, and musical precision.
Amidst tangents and difficult oblique approaches, the pair has also embarked on a few moments of melodic clarity. Not scarcely, Fujii’s entangled piano sounds dance around Fonda’s sharp plucks and thumps, creating a propelling harmony that claims to be running forever, as the water of a river. It eventually breaks into a stinging tension or a vague silence after a while. Sometimes the sounds can be pretty metallic and rusty, especially when Fujii scratches the strings of the piano and exchanges rhythmic ideas with Fonda who nods to the ping-ponged flurries. In the next minute, the mood can be so dreamy, vague, and docile that you could imagine yourself eating cotton candy in front of an old, colored carousel, somewhere in your childhood.
Disparity doesn’t mean lack of unity, and all the different passages, some of them strategically percussive, demonstrate a vastly committed duo in their buoyant interactions full of humor and vitality.
“JSN”, featuring the guest trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, conveys a complete understanding between the musicians, who know what they want and what they’re doing. This exquisite ride takes you to contemplative, turbulent, phantasmagoric, and slightly oriental wonderlands.
Flourishing with creative intuition and boasting an impeccable execution, Duet unreservedly explores the powerful musical spectrums of Fujii and Fonda, in a beautiful intersection.