Even when played decisively, the vibraphone’s sounds are delicate and diffuse, a far cry from the clarity of its percussive siblings such as the xylophone or the marimba. To these instruments’ strong presence, the vibraphone opposes an absence-in-the-making, a living dream, every tone but a whisper of existence. Masayoshi Fujita’s Book of Life records the sweet fragility of a vitality we are too used to conceiving of as forceful, offering musical tales of settling dust and quiet sighs instead, a life defined by the haze of passing time rather than its seizure by means of action.
Fujita has written a series of short stories that comprise this Book, an album of program music that relates each instrument with a character, mostly from the natural world. It is not necessary to read the notes, however, to perceive the flows and crossings of each life, the vibraphone’s innate echoes a harmonic soundscape upon which every note becomes inscribed. “Snowy Night Tale” is, in this regard, a fantastic opener: layers of vibraphone sound slowly build up until the strings sweep in, not in a bombastic manner, but as the natural continuation of an emotional background, giving its dreamy uncertainty a little push without creating a strong melodic lead. Life is here not a struggle, a desire of presence over absence; it is the echo that traverses a void and intimately connects beings and things at a distance.
The style of the vibraphone playing here starkly differs from the ways in which it always disappears beneath other instruments in jazz, or from the attempts at making it into a pure presence in works like those of Ney Rosauro or Stockhausen’s Vibra Elufa. Fujita’s understanding of the instrument is much more nuanced, like the soft suggestions of Morton Feldman’s For Stefan Wolpe. The textures it produces need time to grow, they need the wind to carefully place them all over the earth like seeds, they need enough space to decay and share with us the journey back to the dust from whence we came. This is why it is the perfect instrument with which to write a Book of Life: its frail, ephemeral nature mirrors our own, continually withering away in grand, luminous flashes of beauty that do not separate (each note an absolute individual, each instrument a fragment) but inherently connect (each note a spectrum, each instrument a gathering of echoes in commune). The disappearance of a sound overlaps with the emergence of another, nothing ever being truly lost.
Book of Life is immense, and yet it weighs nothing. It is music to live by, and yet it asserts nothing. Like the “Cloud of Light” that concludes the album, it sees in silence and quiet, simple harmonies the vitality that thoroughly connects everything, its almost unnoticeable dispersal an antithesis to the idea of a ‘spark of life’ – it is a never-ending echo, it is a cloud adrift, it is the vibrant trace of a shadow at dusk. (David Murrieta Flores)