Willits + Sakamoto
SCQ Rating: 79%
Earlier this year Flumina, the third collaboration between Ryuichi Sakamoto and Fennesz, blindsided me. A massive undertaking – two hours in length and homogenous, as it turns out, in all the right ways – but somehow its beauty caught me off-guard, needling its way past my defenses in tiny increments. That record not only amped up my anticipation for Ancient Future, in which Sakamoto again lends his piano talents to an electronic framework, but it has also adapted my approach; instead of unsuspecting, my expectations going into this collaboration turned quite imposing.
As with Flumina, it quickly became apparent that Ancient Future doesn’t cater much to expectations. Unsullied guitar figures tiptoe around delicate electronic sheets and echoed piano without an overt trajectory in mind, making for an instrumental album one savors but doesn’t get aggressively “amped” for. And even though Willits improvises over pre-recorded Sakamoto compositions much like Fennesz did, providing clouds of ambience and a shifting sense of gravity, the outcomes betray similar origins. As a duo, Willits + Sakamoto show greater tonal range, stretching beyond the overcast ambient-plus-piano model for some faint percussive presence grounding the flurry of “I Don’t Want To Understand” and warm guitar-playing that adds an abstract jazz element (think ECM-styled noodling) to “Abandoned Silence”.
Whereas many collaborations of this ilk fall prey to the trappings of mood-music, each of Ancient Future’s six tracks explore subtly distinct raison d’êtres without sacrificing a cohesive temper. Lyrical and reserved, Ancient Future resounds the magic of Sakamoto’s best partnerships (Fennesz, Alva Novo) but with a whole new language.