Carla Kilhstedt / Satoko Fujii / Carla Kihlstedt / Minamo

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Minamo Review

by Michael G. Nastos

Encouraged by West Coast improvising saxophonist Larry Ochs, violinist Carla Kihlstedt and pianist Satoko Fujii teamed up for concert performances in San Francisco, CA, and Weis, Austria, excerpts of which are contained in this recording. Their spirit and verve for pure improvisation are captured well on these dates, which hopefully will not be their only collaboration documented. These women display distinct style and acumen as on-the-spot creators, have a beautiful symmetry that is rarely harsh or acerbic, and yet are bold and brash enough to cut loose and feed off each other's power and energy. The music is not so much exotic, chamber-like, or conventional in the jazz sense as it is electrifying and wholly commanding. Two extended pieces show the individual presence these two exhibit in blending, using conversational language and great listening tools as their precept. "One Hundred and Sixty Billion Spray" is certainly an ambitious title, but the music lives in a multi-directional tangent during initially subdued, spatial, harmonically rich, and probing tones. Kihlstedt's violin sound is remarkably like a flute, with trills and subtones than are thinner in a passionate tryst with the pianist. This piece evokes a night cycle of evening activity, settled but wound up as in a post-sex mood, then sleepwalking, entering a fractured, brittle nightmare, waking suddenly to an early morning fog, and then finally to rest. The near 27-minute "Remainder of One, Reminder of Two" is a huge magnum opus, starting very serene, dark, and slow as if in a dungeon, developing with Fujii's escapist cascading piano in a patient construct like the calm before the tornado with that undercurrent of a distant train sound -- then the tense anxiety of the twister hits. The aftermath is again calm, but there's some piano percussion sounds expressing hope while picking up the pieces. Fujii is amazing in how she plays lateral tonal music with a dynamic range harnessed for light but not heat. Her emotional range and rage finally erupt and are unleashed as if she can't take it no mo'. A modal theme buoys Kihlstedt's kinetic violin -- hers is a broad style and stance that bear further investigation and appreciation. Of the shorter pieces, "Remembering Backwards" is pure minimalist music mixed in a blender with chatty violin, strong piano chords, and ultra dramatic visions in a waltz tempo. The two-minute "Lychnis" is a quick, conversational dance, responsive, full of depth, and a good vehicle for Kihlstedt. A recording that definitely leaves you wanting more, hopefully there are other recordings, and perhaps a second volume of these shows from two brilliant female musical creators.

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