Toh-Kichi ~ Baikamo

Under the name of Toh-Kichi, the duo of Satoko Fujii and Tatsuya Yoshida have released but three albums in the past 15 years, but the combination of their expertise and sheer creativity into such highly original music makes any wait worth it. Baikamo is the latest explosion of this meeting of masters of their respective crafts, with Fujii in full display of both her instrumental and compositional skills, playing like a jazzist lost deep in all the crevices of the 20th century; Yoshida, by his part, is as powerfully wild as he’s ever been, turning the drums into a retro-futurist engine for breaking time. Together, they are a forceful kick in the gut of the genres for which they usually stand, pulling each other into zones of perceptible tensions between peace and anxiety.

To begin with, the album fields 8 composed pieces and 8 improvised ones, alternated and identified by their names: the impossible, primeval words common to almost all Yoshida projects correspond to the free-form pieces, while the conceptually-named ones consist of collaborative compositions. The interplay between them swings listeners into a continuum of extreme states, whether that is a dense cavalcade of piano-drums competition for the ‘most precise percussion instrument’ mini-award or the more modernist moments of atonal meditation in which the piano quietly develops a poetic sequence where the drums take the back-seat to allow either silence or the hollow, complementary abstraction of the hi-hats as accompaniment.

The organic quality of Fujii and Yoshida’s playing is immediately evident on either kind of track, whether by reacting to each other at impressive speed, shifting gears entirely within a couple seconds, or by more structured means, which interestingly enough, do not exactly play to their strengths, allowing them to shine in different manners. While the improvised pieces usually grow into grand, almost punk explosions, the composed ones swerve into jazzy territory as much as they dive into moments of RIO-like intensity, as in the epicenter of the album, “Aspherical Dance”. The two musicians constantly push and pull with and against each other, with the composition unfolding like a long-lost waltz from the minds of Henry Cow, distorting the ‘dance’ into something uncanny.

Of course, the improvisations are thrilling where the compositions are interesting, but it is for exactly the same reason: the “comfort zone” of both musicians is always put at risk. Thus, on the one hand, the compositions require restraint from both, having the effect of showcasing Yoshida’s precision (taming his furious approach to the kit) and the lighter side of Fujii’s wildness (toning down her deep expressionism). On the other, the improvisations feed upon the interactions between both, meaning that Fujii’s effect on Yoshida is to bring out his more systematic, long-term abilities to the fore, carrying a rhythm for a relatively long while (it’s Yoshida we’re talking about here, so that’s like 10 seconds), which often makes the time signature changes weightier. Yoshida’s effect on Fujii is a kind of letting loose, of beating some great sounds and short progressions out of the piano only to move on to something else. Fujii’s usual poetic seriousness gives way to poetic fun, and it is us, as listeners, who get to enjoy the ride.

And that is one of the most important aspects of most projects in which Yoshida is involved, including this one: they’re just incredibly fun to listen to. No need to get your high culture cap on – this is as dense as any free jazz record, but also nearly as brutal as punk. As a unit, these two musicians truly enact a dissolution of high and low, one in which they’re indistinguishable. Come for the acrobatics, stay for the brainy, but also often profoundly expressive, musical ideas at play. (David Murrieta Flores)

Available here.

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