This 51-minute CD represents the complete recorded works of the duo of violinist Carla Kihlstedt and pianist Satoko Fujii: three tracks totaling 24 minutes from the kick-off concert of ROVA's silver anniversary season and a 27 minute piece from the Larry Ochs-curated 2005 Wels Music Unlimited festival. Both performances were improvised introductions to the saxophone quartet, and the brevity of these sets may be a key to the success of the music, which has the concentration and focus of the most intense modernist chamber music. It's not just the instrumentation that will suggest a classical sonata. Kihlstedt and Fujii are clearly steeped in genre and in the repertoire, with the strongest affinities being to Bartok and Prokofiev (with a nod to the special impressionism of Takemitsu). It's tense and tensile stuff, with a steely formal intelligence just beneath the surface.
The playing is absolutely beautiful, and oddly enough it's beautiful in that classical way in which you might separate an individual's performance from the music that he or she is playing. There are moments here, as in the spontaneous melody of "One Hundred and Sixty Billion Spray," that are executed so well it wouldn't matter what the notes are (if such a distinction could be made, and it often is). But the two are actually making this up from the material of their interaction. Fujii is especially adept at elaborating form, sometimes creating a complex dialogue between left and right hands that follows, frames and amplifies Kihlstedt's lines. That expressive richness here (the Bartok/ Prokofiev lineage) springs from Kihlstedt's profound sound and attack, as rich and dynamic as any violinist who has entered the improvising community.
The way the two will choose pure sound to frame one another is also noteworthy. Kihlstedt's use of harmonics is forceful enough to suggest electronics while Fujii finds tremendous resources on the piano strings, creating sustained atmospherics like sea and rain shower and gravel. The later "Remainder of One, Reminder of Two" has the evanescence of Crumb's "Night Music." It's all delivered with the special intensity of people who didn't have a long time to get acquainted. Not so much a triumph of improvised music over the composed, rather it's improvised music that's acting like a special kind of through composition.