El Fog: Reverberate Slowly
Masayoshi Fujita: Stories
In which two dramatically different but equally satisfying sides of Masayoshi Fujita are presented, one a rather more becalmed take on Jan Jelinek-styled moodscaping and the other a comparatively more straightforward set of vibraphone-oriented set-pieces. That Jelinek contributes a remix to the expanded reissue of Fujita's first El Fog release Reverberate Slowly (the original appeared on Moteer in 2007) isn't the only aspect that connects the hour-long album to Jelinek as it often plays like a home listening take on his Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records (the two also recently collaborated on the 2010 release Bird, Lake, Objects issued on Jelinek's Faitiche label). Like that 2001 ~scape release, Reverberate Slowly's focus is as much textural as melodic, with the Berlin-based Fujita covering the album material in a misty blanket of hiss and, naturally, fog. Musical elements are present, however, with the prominently featured vibraphone augmented by Rhodes and acoustic guitar, and samples of piano and double bass.
From the opening moments of “Mountain Dub” to the original album closer “Own Frequency, Own Time,” vibes gently drift through dense clouds of crackle, clicks, and hiss, with minimal dub-like bass pulses the animating element. Melodic material is likewise minimal, with the focus more on glitch-heavy atmospheres and the gleaming vibes patterns that punctuate them. A bass drum pattern lends “Silent Soaring” a tad more animation, even though a correspondingly heavy coating of textures is also added to its skeletal frame. Contrast emerges in “The Fog of the Far Small Town” when delicate acoustic guitar strums appear alongside sleepy clicking rhythms and nocturnal insect calls.
Classic acoustic jazz, like dub, is an oft-reference point. The piano and acoustic bass parts in the acoustic jazz-styled “Olive,” for instance, call Kind of Blue to mind, while the chord progressions of “Lily” likewise echo those heard in “Blue in Green” and another classic, “Some Other Time” (even if said chords are almost buried under a thick layer of dust). With respect to the newly added pieces, it comes as no surprise that Jelinek's contribution, “Out Woods and the Far Small Town,” blends seamlessly into the whole, given the creators' unanimity of stylistic approach, while much the same could be said for “Mirtel Reflex,” an NQ (real name Nils Quak) track remixed by Fujita for the Kitty-Yo release Purple Skies Remixed. Reverberate slowly indeed.
One might not immediately think that a solo album of vibraphone recordings would be all that interesting, but in Fujita's hands they certainly become so. That Stories is so engaging is helped along by the imaginative concept he applies to the album's eight settings. Each one uses the kernel of a nature-based story idea as a stylistic springboard for the piece in question, such that the exuberant opener “Deers,” for example, exudes a buoyancy consistent with the idea of young bucks playing together and running through the forest and along the river.
Stories, in fact the first vibraphone solo album by Fujita, also engages for the varying sounds he coaxes from the instrument. The resonant glisten of the vibes is on full display, of course, but it's base sound is expanded upon when Fujita turns it into a prepared instrument by applying beads and aluminum foil to it, and by not just striking it but bowing it as well. As a result, one can't help but be struck by the melancholy beauty of the shimmering tones of “Cloud,” a setting designed to evoke the image of a mother crying in a church on a cloudy day as she holds her baby in her arms. The echoing vibes accumulate into flurries that again evoke the blinding quality of a “Snow Storm,” while the moods of “Swan and Morning Dews” and “Memories of the Wind”are as peaceful and wistful as their titles imply.
At times Fujita expands on the material's vibraphone core by including the violin and cello playing of Koshiko Yamane and Arturo Martinez Steele, respectively. By adding percussive textures and strings-like bowing to vibes patterns, Fujita transforms “Story of Forest” into a sweetly emotional collaboration between a percussionist and seeming string quartet. The insistent rhythmic flow within “River” communicates clearly the idea that this particular river isn't a placid stream but one filled with rapids, and once again the guests' strings form an appealing counterpoint to Fujita's metronomic patterns. His expert control of tempo and dynamics is amply demonstrated in the album's longest setting, “Story of Waterfall I. & II.,” whose trilling cascades ebb and flow for a dream-like eleven minutes. Ultimately one comes away from Stories impressed by Fujita's musicality but even more by his ability to captivate the listener, even when the recording is almost wholly vibraphones-generated.