Satoko Fujii & Myra Melford – Under the Water: Piano Solos and Duos – Koro Music (limited edition of 500 copies) – Libra 202-024, 45 min. ****:
In today’s crowded under-funded world of art, artists’ work must stand out in bold relief to be noticed. In the plastic arts, they might be hyper-realists or surrealists. In photography, they could be takers of ultra-wide-angle shots or delvers into high dynamic range (HDR) processing, both of which pop off the page.
And in experimental jazz they could be pianists like Satoko Fujii or Myra Melford
The five pieces on this disc (which looks hand printed and pressed) [It was, including rubber stamps!…Ed.] are organized democratically: three duos and two solos. “Yadokari” begins with the two keyboardists performing a free-form improvisation with what sound like prepared pianos, au John Cage. Piano strings get strummed frenetically, there’s rapid wood-on-wood percussion, all doused with buckets of random notes. It veers from chaotic to wispy, and just when you wonder if the whole album is going to be like this, the pianists start exploring their instruments altogether differently. At five minutes, the piece turns lyrical, melodic. There’s no telling what these two women will try next. In “Trace A River,” Fujii makes her piano strings sound like traditional Japanese instruments like a koto or kugo. At first. Then a brilliant and effusive solo on traditional piano ensues, seasoned with unusual percussive effects. There are themes she develops and returns to, then varies. It’s brilliant and captivating.
“The Migration of Fish,” the second duo, really sounds like a musical imagining of quivering leaping fish. Melford’s opening piano notes shimmer, accompanied by Fujii’s tinkling unspecified objects. It’s delicate, sometimes perplexing, but never jarring or unpleasant. “Be Melting Snow” is Melford’s more traditional piano solo: left hand ostinato, right hand improvisation, high rhythmic content. Very few white summer peaches are this delicious. In her barocco ornamentation, she even displays a sense of humor. She keeps adding layers of complexity without ever letting the piece wriggle free and swim off. She reminds me of late seventies Keith Jarrett, were it not for the piece’s startling conclusion. The two pianists finish with “Utsubo,” not exactly an all-out fireworks finale. But through its “mysterious barricades” textures and heated sexual crescendos, it’ll do nicely. This CD is a true surprise and makes great traveling music.
— Peter Bates