The second collaboration for pianist Satoko Fujii and violinist Carla Kihlstedt as the duo Minamo, this double-CD set showcases them playing some miniatures and relatively short thematic improvisations in studio, plus a separate disk of extended live spontaneous performances at the world-renowned Vancouver International Jazz Festival in June of 2008. Part of the Tzadik label series Oracles -- celebrating diversity in women's modern music -- Fujii and Kihlstedt set up crazy-quilt work weavings of sonic structures that are always on the edge while creating unique harmonic building blocks to improvise off of. In typical Fujii fashion, the pianist never looks back upon predetermined concepts, always shaping thinking for her own fertile mind. Kihlstedt continues her evolution as an individualist, a thinker, and one whose sound on her string instrument defies specific categorizations somewhere between 20th century contemporary, jazz and folk-art music styles. Taking a musical trip as Fujii and Kihlstedt start their journey in calm before the storm peace in "The Murmur of Leaves," before encountering a kinetic "Scarab," the loping "Camel" with plucked violin rhythms, the scratched string motif of "Open the Window," and the lovely dark-and-light piano sounds of "One Day at the Station." The light, impressionistic "Between Sky & Water" shows the two musicians going on separate paths, overtone smears and the sound of bells identify "Mirror," while "Hope" is a two-minute overdub of violin in an Irish tone and Fujii's accordion. Where the pretty "In the Sky" contrasts with the dancing Kihlstedt and the inquisitive interjective piano vibe of "Arabesque," so too do the soaring, probing, tandem lines of "Magic Carpet," the playful, electronic-type sounds of "Raindrop," and the violent drama leading to both peace and nightmare in "In the Dream." Arriving at "Between Sky & Land," the duo find serenity and quiet on the same pathway as they end their quest. The live CD is much more forceful than motif-driven as you might expect, but tells a different tale, starting with the probing minimalist piano, phase shifts in dynamics, and extended harmonic techniques during "Black River." A folkish beginning with calmer focus leads to under-the-surface repartee on "Blue Slope," bell tones and chattered vocals in "Purple Summer," and spaced counterpoint on "Red Wind." "Green Mirage" and "White Storm" conclude this lengthy odyssey coming up from fertile ground, ending in a blizzard of cold bombast contrasting the back river concept with vocal outcries. Fujii is always innovative, no less exciting than usual, but in a flashing amber mood, darting and dashing about between reference points, while Kihlstedt broadens her horizon with every phrase and nuance, her intellectual side zinging the passion and verve in her deepest consciousness. This CD contains a lot of music, ready for your rapt attention and acceptance as high-level art it truly is.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2