A recording of piano and vibraphone duos? I’m not sure how it gets any better. I’ve mentioned my love for “malleted instruments” many times before, and I’m starting to think there’s something in the tones and timbres that vibrate in unison with something deep inside of me, something ancient. I have a couple of Vietnamese singing bowls, so I know I’m not being crazy about this, right? Beyond is a new album from a Japanese duo who call themselves Futari (website), and it qualifies as avant-garde composition, but I think it will kick up something deep inside of you as well.
Futari certainly has the proper pedigree. The pianist is Satoko Fujii, who recently dazzled me with her recordings Prickly Pear Cactus (with avant-garde composer Ikue Mori and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and Penta (with just Tamura). This time Fujii’s partner is Taiko Saito, who is considered a true mallet virtuoso in Japan. In a way, Beyond completes the trilogy–Prickly Pair Cactus organizes noise into surprisingly accessible chunks of music, Pentas is a terse conversation between two unlikely fellow travelers, and Futari connects those adventurous ideas into a more musical (aka traditional) structure that covers a wider range of emotions.
In essence, Futari is documenting a conversation between two musicians as well. They’re connected by the regular avenues, counterpoint and other common devices, but Beyond becomes truly original and remarkable when each performer flies solo for a while and truly crawl into the timbers and percussive effects of their respective instruments. Saito is unusual adept at making her vibes sound like something else–glass harmonica and ondes Martenot come to mind quite frequently. The decay she extracts from those planks is otherworldly.
Although Fujii plays more conventionally, she does work with a prepared piano at times. Every since I had a major Arvo Part obsession in college, I’ve always loved the oddness of the prepared piano–maybe as much as the vibraphone. You can start to see why I love this Futari performance, but if you include the fabulous sound quality it becomes something more. It becomes a reference disc, something I use often to evaluate high-end audio gear in reviews.
I’ve been doing that. A lot. Beyond just might be my favorite recording of 2021 so far, and by a huge margin.