Nick Bollinger reviews a set of musical fables from Berlin-based vibraphone master Masayoshi Fujita.
What a beautiful instrument the vibraphone is. It only seems to take a cluster of those deep bell-like notes to change the whole colour of the atmosphere. Like a big xylophone with a resonator tube attached to each bar, it was one of the first instruments to employ electricity, using variable speed motors to produce that distinctive shimmering tremolo. Jazz musicians like Lionel Hampton were early adopters, and it has been used in classical music too, as well as the broad genre known as exotica. Where would Arthur Lyman have been without it? But Masayoshi Fujita is a young Japanese vibraphonist who has his own ideas about what to do with the instrument.
Fujita started out as a drummer in Japan before shifting to the vibraphone and moving to Berlin. Where he made his first recordings under the name El Fog. They were minimalist in style, matching pulsating bell tones with glitchy electronic beats. Dropping the El Fog handle, in 2013 he released Stories, his first album under his own name, which placed the vibraphone in more analogue settings, sometimes accompanied by strings, at other times entirely solo. The new disc continues down the analogue path; the vibraphone is essentially the only electrified instrument here, and Fujita plays it with greater skill than ever. But his accompaniment has expanded into an eight-piece ensemble of clarinet, accordion, French horn, flute, cello, violin and percussion, and some of the things he does with it are fantastic.
Among the eight tracks on Apologues are a couple of pieces where the effect is almost Eno-esque, a tone pond, with petals of sound falling gently on long sustained undertones. At other times Fujita’s compositions are rich and full, like big colourful figurative illustrations.
An apologue is a short fable or allegory and if these instrumentals seem to tell stories, they are supported by some brief whimsical texts in the accompanying booklet. Fujita has already established himself as a master of his instrument with his electronic collaborations and solo work, but on Apologues he proves himself as a composer and a storyteller and perhaps some sort of painter as well.
Songs played: 'Tears Of Unicorn', 'Flag', 'Knight Of Spirit Lake', 'Puppet’s Strange Dream Circus Band', 'Swallow Flies High In The May Sky'.