Review Summary: Unknown Musician + Unknown Musician = Fantastic Album
The main output of artists David Cunningham and Yasuaki Shumizu has been through their work as session musicians for the more popular (a very relative term) contemporary composers, meaning they are basically unknown. Cunningham has lent his notable guitar and laptop skills to art installations and composition collaborations, while Shumizu has played saxophone for Ryuichi Sakamoto and The Orb, to name a few. This being the world of ambient music, a magical place in which any artists can work together to create something for people to listen to while they paint, work, or sleep, Shumizu and Cunningham decided to do a one-off collaborative recording with Shumizu manning saxophone and piano while Cunningham stuck to his computer and various forms of guitar processing.
Two virtually unknown session musicians improvising together for more than an hour" On just a few instruments" One Hundred sounds as though it might be the kind of music that would interrupt the work or sleep being attempted by the listener due to the sheer dullness or abrasiveness of it. However, this record ends up interrupting work and sleep for an entirely different reason - it is completely fascinating, hypnotic, and, most of all, listenable.
Shumizu likes to play gorgeous and repetitive Reich-ian patterns on his saxophone into a delay unit manned by Cunningham. Luckily, Cunningham tends to process Shumizu’s playing in a way that keeps it as beautiful as it began, adding his own complex ambient surfaces underneath. The electronic and processed guitar chords that give harmonic direction to Shumizu’s melodic ideas shift constantly, bringing to mind the less distorted work of Fennesz or Christopher Willits. A structure to the chords is never too apparent because they change too much to settle in for too long. As soon as a pattern to the progression becomes evident, Cunningham switches to something altogether different but no less beautiful.
The hypnotic qualities of the music lie in Shumizu’s elegant, minimal saxophone playing. The constant chord changes could give the music an undesirable formless, drifting quality that causes it to never really sink in with the listener. The simple melodies played on the saxophone over the chord bed are what truly drive the music. Shumizu generally sticks to just a few notes per song, but these notes are chosen with the utmost precision, perfectly harmonizing with Cunningham’s amorphous texture processing. Occasionally a rhythm is even intoned by the saxophone, such as on “Dots” when a constant loop keeps a note playing on every beat. The saxophone acts as percussion and melody at the same time, a testament to the genius of Shumizu’s playing.
The quality and conversational nature of the interaction between the participating artists is what defines the value of an improvisational work, and Shumizu and Cunningham communicate on a level that puts many more well-known improvisers to shame. The fate of a session musician may be never to see the same fame as the people they are working for, but if the underexposure results in work such as that found on One Hundred, then more recognition is, without a doubt, in store for them soon.