Masayoshi Fujita is originally from Japan but currently resides in Berlin, and signs of this geographical split are in evidence on Stories, the first album he’s released under his own name (more of his other work later). There’s enough to suggest similarities with other Japanese musicians (Yoshinori Takezawa in particular) but the album also has an outlook that edges it towards the music of the European neo-classical composer-musicians that Erased Tapes have built their label around in recent years.
The most immediately striking aspect of Stories is its exclusive focus on one instrument – the vibraphone. It is central to each of the album’s eight tracks but any concerns that this narrow sound palette may be restrictive are slowly pushed to one side as the album unfurls. There’s more substance and variety than you would initially expect from an album formed from such relatively modest instrumentation. The gently undulating sequences of opening track Deers sets the agenda – in possession of a glistening, twinkling quality but one that is never overly cloying or lightweight.
However, it’s the way in which he subtly develops and expands this core sound that makes the album interesting. On Cloud the vibraphone patterns segue into an airy, light drone while Story Of Forest sees a slowing of the pace and an overlaying of mildly melancholic strings. Later, strings reappear on River but this time they act as a uplifting force. The best example occurs with Story Of Waterfall I & II – the longest track on the album at 11 minutes and also by far the most spacious. As a negative, the wheezy, distant scraping of strings on Swan And Morning Dew works less well. The album title of Stories, and some of the individual track names suggest they’ve been inspired by or named after events, places or experiences, ultimately a successful attempt to give the pieces greater context.
Recent years have seen Fujita also release music under the El-Fog name and collaborate with other artists rooted in the European electronic underground (most notably as part of experimental improv outfit Pan Am Scan). It’s interesting to ponder where Stories slots in. It is certainly not as textured or tactile as his work under his El-Fog guise, lacking the spare percussion and electronic glitches. Yet, it has a cleaner and a comparatively more hi-fi sound than found on Bird, Lake, Object his excellent 2011 collaboration with German electronic musician Jan Jelinek.
To an extent, comparisons can also be drawn to Elements Of Light, the latest album by Pantha Du Prince, specifically in its singular musical focus (on this release Pantha Du Prince collaborates with The Bell Laboratory, using a three tonne carillion of 50 bells to produce something of a chiming, beat-infused opus). Stories won’t pick up as many accolades but similar musical thinking can be detected behind the scenes. The shadow of Steve Reich does occasionally cast its presence over album, especially in relation to the album’s fundamental timbre, but on the whole Stories is a concise, well-formed offering from a growing musician, on an emerging label.