Rothenberg (clarinets, saxophones and shakuhachi) and Satoh (piano) recorded this material in 2003 and 2004, their artistic partnership dating back to 1992. Twelve clearly structured pieces, some of them veritable compositions, a lot of ever-lucid improvisational designs defining the large part of the interplay. A cover of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” complements the program, whereas the heartfelt shakuhachi solo of the final track hints at “Round Midnight” almost surreptitiously.
The sonic substance may be unerringly articulated and well dressed — even during the edgier segments — but the risk of modish coldness is easily circumvented. Both artists are endowed with superb taste, constantly fishing remarkable melodic ideas from a deep pool of different genres and idioms, suggestions absorbed over the course of long-lasting careers. The contrapuntal consistency is inspiring, entirely deprived as it is of technically advanced provincialism. Complexity doesn’t rhyme with boredom in this case, and — despite the 64-minute duration — the sense of aural fulfillment remains substantial all the time. One can put a finger on the invisible wire linking these no-frill virtuosos; they trust each other completely, perfectly aware of what their partner is doing at any juncture, nearly able to reciprocally foresee the impending variations.
The proud words written by Rothenberg in the liner notes — which state that the music contained herein is “free” because it shuns the clichés that by now characterize an erstwhile emancipation from stylistic codes and obligations — are sustained by the couple’s imaginative lyricism which, more often than not, is translated into sheer acoustic exquisiteness.