Venue 505, May 19


Satoko res
Satoko Fujii. Photo: Stefan Postius.

There was a sense of depth here like you get staring into a Jackson Pollock painting: sound stacked upon sound stretching off to a dim infinity. The fact that just four musicians were layering the sonic canvas with these labyrinths only compounded the mystery.

Satoko Fujii (piano) and Natsuki Tamura (trumpet), two of Japan’s finest improvisers, were collaborating with Alister Spence (Fender Rhodes and devices) and Simon Barker (drums). All four have extended techniques and vocabularies at their disposal: an ability to stretch their instruments beyond recognition and generate sounds as surprising as a sane tweet from Trump.

The depth’s inky blackness was largely thanks to Spence’s piling up of electronic manipulations on even a single note of his electric piano. The downside was that this could become a sonic black hole swallowing some of Fujii’s ever-imaginative work at or inside the piano, but that was rare. At one point in the longer of the quartet’s two improvisations she escaped this fate by flecking the music’s surface with the sound of shattering glass from the piano’s extreme upper register. In the shorter improvisation she instead used sparseness and a luminous, nursery-rhyme-like melody that emerged from the thickets like a lost child from the bush.

Much of the foreground action came from the trumpet and drums. The night had begun with Tamura and Barker, who had never previously played together, duetting, and both then and in the later quartets (after an eerie duet between the two keyboard players) they exhibited an instant rapport, pouncing on each other’s ideas with obvious relish. Tamura could flit from the zany humour of squeezing squeaky toys to the maximum drama of his racing trumpet lines. These lit up Barker’s furious squalls as tracer fire does a night sky, and Barker continually opened up fresh options for all his collaborators, while injecting supercharged energy and constant surprises. As thrilling as these foregrounds were, that sense of infinite depth conjured by Spence’s mastery of electronics will not be quickly forgotten.