Review: Patrick Shiroishi & Dylan Fujioka – のの (self-released, Feb 19)

“The leaves of the trees continued to turn in the wind. The rivers continued to flow. Insects hummed in the grass as always. Crows cawed. The sky did not fall. No President changed his mind. Mitsuko’s favorite black hen clucked once and laid a warm brown egg. A green plum fell early from a tree. Our dogs ran after us with balls in their mouths, eager for one last toss, and for once, we had to turn them away. Go home. Neighbors peered out at us through their windows. Cars honked. Strangers stared. A boy on a bicycle waved. A startled cat dove under a bed in one of our houses as looters began to break down the front door. Curtains ripped. Glass shattered. Wedding dishes smashed to the floor. And we knew it would only be a matter of time until all traces of us were gone.” —Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic

Of the many entries in the astronomically long list of wrongs and oppression that the racist institution of the United States has wrought against particular ethnocultural groups, few are more starkly visible now than the mistreatment of Asian-Americans (my heart also goes out to the Native, Black, and other marginalized communities who are disproportionately suffering the effects of the pandemic). Accomplished improvisors Dylan Fujioka and Patrick Shiroishi, who previously collaborated on last year’s Neba Neba, directly engage with our country’s hideous abuse of people of Asian descent on のの (No-No) in a context both current and historical. Pictured on the cover of the release are Fujioka’s grandparents and other family members, a haunting choice given the unavoidable association of the early 40s with Executive Order 9066, known more commonly as the mass internment of Japanese-Americans in reaction to the Pearl Harbor attack. This poignant meeting of the two musicians draws attention to the clear parallel between that unspeakable systematic abuse and the hate crimes that are being perpetrated against Asian citizens today—both phenomena illustrate the reality that racism has not at all been eradicated, and that all it takes for it to rear its ugly head yet again is some tenuous connection between a certain group and a national threat, most often spurred on by chauvinistic presidential rhetoric. The skittering exchanges of elegiac saxophone runs, softly struck mallet percussion, and barely audible whispers hiss through broken air much like the constant gusts of sand through the “cracks in the walls” in the concentration camp living quarters (Fujioka’s family was held at Tule Lake), threading impossibly fragile strands of sound and memory through space and time. With such conceptually rich releases I usually make some statement about how the music could stand alone, but in my mind that wasn’t even a passing thought in this case; these disarmingly delicate improvisations are thoroughly steeped in the hardships and emotions that gave rise to them, preventing any listener from turning away from the issue at hand (which mainstream news sources seem to have no problem doing).

All proceeds from album sales will be donated to Asian Americans Advancing Justice. There’s another Bandcamp-fee-waiving day coming up on March 5; please consider supporting not only excellent art, but justice for those who deserve it.

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