Gato Libre | Kuro | Libra Records

libra records 104-018

Natsuki Tamura – trumpet | Satoko Fujii - accordion | Kazuhiko Tsumura – guitar | Norikatsu Koreyasu – bass

Recorded live by Tetsumasa Kondo at Big Apple in Kobe on May 22nd, 2007. Mixed by Tatsuya Yoshida on June 13th, 2007. Mastered by Scott Hull at Scott Hull Mastering, NYC on July 16th, 2007. Executive producer: Satoko Fujii. Artwork: Ichiji Tamura. Design: Masako Tanaka

Tracklist: 1. Sunny Spot [6:26] 2. Patrol [6:04] 3. Battle [6:21] 4. Reconcile [7:08] 5. Together [5:49] 6. Beyond [9:29] 7. Kuro [8:45]

Gato Libre | Kuro | libra records

The enchanting Kuro is the third release

from trumpeter Natsuki Tamura’s group, Gato Libre, following Strange Village (Muzak, 2005) and Nomad (No Man’s Land, 2007).

Tamura shares the same fearless creative attitude that his wife and musical partner pianist Satoko Fujii (here playing accordion) has. His eclectic interests can be heard most recently on Cloudy Then Sunny (Libra, 2008), the second release from Fujii’s Junk Box group, where his acoustic trumpet becomes a virtual sound machine.

In Gato Libre, Tamura exposes his other side, both as a composer and player, with relatively simple and melodic works featuring crystal-clear phrasing and clarion playing. Gato Libre has established a particular acoustic sound based on instrumentation (Tamura: trumpet, Fujii: accordion, Kazuhiko Tsumura: plectrum, acoustic nylon guitar and Norikatsu Koreysu: bass), but also by the musical genre they mine: European folk/dance music with a bit of an Asian undertone which is extended and stretched.

The musical extensions are, of course, what make the music so interesting by adding the unpredictability of jazz to what is a straightforward base. By mixing a seriousness of purpose with a floating rhythmic lightness and sound, and adding a good bit of humor, Tamura allows his music to be accessible, almost danceable, and yet rewarding intellectual investigation.

One of the things most salient to jazz—that there are no wrong notes—is immediately presented in the first piece “Sunny Spot.” The simple, light, lilting minor dance is played straight by Tsumura and Koreyasu. Only at its very end is a descending melodic minor heard, answered by a single “wrong” note from Tamura, with a different one in the repetition. Thus, the simple and obvious is given depth, furthered by Fujii’s accordion playing.

In “Reconcile,” another simple, very attractive melody is given a similar treatment, as both Tamura’s and Tsumura’s carefully chosen “out” notes clash with prevailing harmony, pulling it into a darker, more complex world, but never completely subverting the sunshine on which it is based. This is serious fun, simple complexity and popular art, all rolled into one.

Tamura opens “Beyond” with a breathtakingly clear and high-flying line, which is supporting by an equally clear harmony leading to a climactic half cadence. From this simple opening, however, the piece shifts to a free, rather plaintive duet between bass and trumpet. A floating guitar and accordion duet follows that exquisitely balances between tonality and atonality. For the moment, folk music has been left behind.

All three Gato Libre albums covers feature a black cat, and “kuro” in Japanese means not only black, but also the blackest black imaginable, and also, according to Tamura, the name of a cat that is “the boss of stray cats.” Gentle and soothing, this closing, title tune, acts both as the bookend to the opening “Sunny Spot,” and a summation of Gato Libre’s aesthetic.

Kuro fills the heart while bringing tears to the eyes. — Budd Kopman

Gato Libre | Kuro | libra records

This album is a bit unusual

for trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and his group Gato Libre. While many of his other recordings are in a free jazz mode—notably as an accompanist for his wife, pianist Satoko Fujii—Kuro seems largely intent in showing a varying picture of Tamura’s musical scope.

Fujii forgoes her usual piano for accordion on Kuro.On the opening “Sunny Spot,” she provides a tandem accompaniment with guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura that enhances this otherwise attractive melody. There is also a hint of ambient music dropped on this track. The following “Patrol” sounds like a European folk tune, and again the combination of accordion and guitar provides a cushion for Tamura’s trumpet. “Battle” is just that: a six-minute-plus track rife with squeals, honks and other musical tools of the avant-garde. Looking at the liner notes provides an explanation that “Battle” is merely “a tense, if at times whimsical, mélange of an actual story of conflict, resolution and transcendence….” On further listens, a more typical response might be to reach for ear plugs.

However, there is peace and tranquility ahead with “Reconcile.” On several tracks, Fujii’s accordion and Tsumura’s guitar enter flamenco and tango territory, in which the accordion approximates the Argentinean bandoneon. Tamura offers up one more avant-garde piece with “Beyond,” and finally concludes with “Kuro,” a tune of melody and serenity.

This is a curious album, offering a varied menu of musical ports of call from around the world, and is not afraid to display the group’s affinity for free jazz. — Michael P. Gladstone

Gato Libre | Kuro | libra records

 

CD version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)

Price: €16.00
 

2 thoughts on “Gato Libre | Kuro | Libra Records

  1. Gato Libre is back, carrying on the musical tradition that marked its last recording, Nomad(No Man’s Land, 2007). Natsuki Tamura (trumpet), Satoko Fujii (accordion), Kazuhiko Tsumura (guitar) and Norikatsu Koreyasu (bass) play with an agile sense for melody and detail that suits the compositions to a nicety. Tamura uses Gato Libre to get away from the improvisatory music that marks his other projects, where the written word is more often than not a speck on the horizon, rather than the take-off point. Here he shows a gentler side, one that ministers to a warm, happy, fuzzy feeling with melodies that are downright lovely. He and the rest jut off on an occasional tangent, knifing the progression or breaking it up, adding to the sense of fun.

    “Sunny Spot” is delectable. The lyrical melody is given a stunning presence by Tsumura and then by Fujii. There is a touch of flamenco that comes through handclaps and the chord structures on the guitar. The whole flows eloquently, even if Tamura decides to shoot in some flurries and flattened notes.

    Tamura is the fount of melodicism on “Reconcile.” He plays with deep feeling, indulging in the melody. Fujii and Tsumura are sympathetic purveyors of the line he has set, and together they turn this into one of the strongest selections on the CD.

    “Patrol,” an elegant waltz, has Tamura gliding seamlessly, with Tsumura adding a second voice with his run of notes and chords. After sensing the melody and improvising within its bounds, Fujii flies out and brings in her own perspective. Tamura follows, briefly blowing open-ended notes, before they all settle into the sway.

    Kuro is another impressive release from Gato Libre.

  2. The ever-prolific Satoko Fujii is celebrating the year of her 50th birthday by doing what she does ever year: touring, composing and recording relentlessly. The latest round of releases from Libra—the imprint she runs with trumpeter Natsuki Tamura—include new recordings by her longstanding trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black and a more recent trio with Tamura and drummer John Hollenbeck. Tamura might not match his wife’s speed of release, but his records are just as satisfying, as evidenced by a new release from his band Gato Libre.

    The trio with Dresser and Black uses some of her jazziest writing and playing, full of jumping lines and lyrical passages. More recently, the group has been expanded to include Tamura on trumpet, but here they are back to their original lineup and it’s in the classic piano trio setting that the influence of Fujii’s former teacher Paul Bley comes out the most. While Trace a River sounds like the band’s previous work, here perhaps it is more contemplative, softer and more pastoral at times. Dresser, of course, is more than able to fulfill his role here, generally keeping close to the pieces and supporting Fujii beautifully. The band’s edge comes from Black’s drums. He’s just as tight in the pieces, but pushes to an unexpected degree. Where this could have been a brush-and-cymbal affair, Black underlines rather than accentuates, solidifying the melodies.

    For a player with as many projects as Fujii, it’s hard to tell when something’s a one-off meeting or a new band. So it’s a happy surprise that Junk Box has come around with a second release, Cloudy Then Sunny. The first disc by the trio of Fujii, Tamura and Hollenbeck was a fun meeting even if it didn’t quite gel. Here, however, they feel like they know what they’re dealing with. The pieces (all Fujii’s) are less formalized than her trio compositions, sometimes even comic. Tamura likes to play the imp and Fujii seems to compose to that here. Fujii’s bands are always centered on rhythm, but Junk Box is her most open project, with piano and drums falling back and forth on the rhythm while Tamura’s muted sobs and sputtered screams wander inbetween. It’s an unusual side to the pianist and an enormously fun one at that.

    Fujii and Tamura seem to give each other permission to act out in their respective bands. Tamura—historically the quirkier of the two—has grown downright respectable with his Gato Libre project, playing much more inside than with Junk Box. And likewise he throws Fujii into unexpected situations in his groups, having her play synthesizer in past groups and, with the Spanish-inflected new band, accordion. With the band’s first release in 2005, it seemed another trick up Tamura’s sleeve, but now they’re up to three with Kuro and the records keep getting better. The sweet, plaintive melodies are swapped between the leader and acoustic guitarist Norikatsu Koreyasu, whose playing shines throughout. There’s still playfulness to his composing, but the performance is daringly traditional. Tamura’s new trick, apparently, is that he’s not trying to trick anyone at all. Tamura and Fujii are always worthy of attention, but this latest round is an especially good harvest.

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