There are certain elements of gig etiquette that one should always try to adopt. Don’t use your phone excessively, don’t chat with your mates, don’t chuck beer around.
In the gorgeous environs of the Purcell room whilst listening to the beautiful peaceful music of Masayoshi Fujita, I learned another one: don’t attempt to eat salted caramel ice cream. As he rendered near silence on occasions, each bite of my crunchy ice cream pushed me deeper into self-conscious humiliation. It was a lesson learned.
There are times when you marvel at the technical ability of the musicians in front of you. There are other times when you are transported by the beauty of their music and playing. Then there are those concerts where the charm of the musician finds a way to your heart.
The truly special gigs are those where these three circles of a musical Venn diagram intersect. This was one of those moments.
it also illustrates the power of maintaining a physical product, cultivating a record label aesthetic and giving the audience something a little different.
Masayoshi Fujita is a Japanese vibraphone player who currently lives in Berlin. He currently records on the Erased Tapes label, who have recently celebrated the 10th birthday (which I wrote about here). As well as recording fantastic music which they package beautifully, they also have a permanent sound gallery in Hackney, East London. The label often gives away samplers of recent releases on CD, which is how I came upon Fujita. When the opportunity came to see him in the intimate and acoustically pristine Purcell Room in the South Bank arts complex, I couldn’t resist.
He was joined on the evening by the Phaedra Ensemble (flute, violin, viola and cello). The musicians offered an accompaniment to Fujita’s arrangements of his own music. We were stunned to hear later that they had only met for the first time that very day.
Fujita’s final part (Book of Life) of what he described on the evening as a trilogy has just been released. Aside from the beauty of the music, he was an engaging and informative host. He explained that the vibraphone is a relatively new instrument. Around 100 years old, it doesn’t have a huge existing repertoire. It has mainly found a home in jazz with players such as Gary Burton, Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson bringing it to the fore. It’s rhythmic qualities have been explored by modern classical composers such as Steve Reich and Morton Feldman.
As the evening progressed, Fujita altered the instrument by damping with towels, strings and even tin foil. None of the alterations made the instrument atonal but rather changed the texture of the sound. Using four mallets and a cello bow, he developed melodies and harmonies simultaneously, exploiting the instrument’s ability to provide long notes of sustain. The instrument’s ability to handle long notes stems from a series of butterfly valves that rotate, keeping the sound alive.
Fujita took the time to introduce each song and provide a short story describing what the instrumental pieces were intending to convey. The stories were short and brought to mind Japanese haikus, often describing elemental nature, such as snow and mountains, forests and rivers, birds and deer (with a unicorn chucked in for good measure).
Between the background to the instrument and Fujita’s musings, he played some beautiful music. The vibraphone took the lead with the ensemble adding colours. The Japanese roots were immediately evident. One could easily imagine this music being an accompaniment to temples and zen gardens. There is a current resurgence of interest in Japanese 80s ambient music, helped by people like Visible Cloaks’ promotion. Fujita’s music feels like a logical emotional extension of that.
After the gig, Fujita mingled with the audience, chatting and happy to be photographed. He signed a couple of LPs and we talked about our trip to Japan last year.
It capped off a brilliant evening, showing how by thinking about the way that artists, labels and audiences interact, new opportunities can be created.
It is something that other parts of the music industry would do well to consider.
But more than anything else, we enjoyed some beautiful music delivered by a stellar group of musicians.
And boy was it a hoot. I’ll just stick vanilla ice cream in the future.