Natsuki Tamura | Satoko Fujii | Muku | Libra Records

libra records 102-031

Natsuki Tamura – trumpet | Satoko Fujji – piano

Recorded on October 6, 2011 by Joe Marciano, assisted by Max Ross at Systems Two, New York. Mixed and mastered on April 10, 2012 by Joe Marciano at Systems Two, New York. Executive producer: Satoko Fujii. Artwork: Ichiji Tamura. Design: Masako Tanaka.

Tracklist: 1. Dune And Star [9:38] 2. In Barcelona, In June [5:12] 3. Muku [6:33] 4. Galvanic [3:32] 5. Patrol [5:37] 6. In Paris, In February [5:41] 7. Clone [7:15]

Natsuki Tamura | Satoko Fujii | Muku | libra records

Trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and pianist Satoko Fujii

— partners in marriage and music — have an extensive discography together, spanning a broad array of ensemble configurations, from Fujii’s calamitous big bands to Tamura’s European folk song-flavored Gato Libre discs, and from Fujii’s propulsive, window-rattling art rock quartets to Tamura’s blistering electric quartet of Hada Hada (Libra Records, 2003). But it is in their simple duo of piano and trumpet, where they have recently created some of their most compelling music.

Muko is the pair’s fifth duo outing, following 2008’s outstanding Chun (Libra Records). Listening to the two recordings back-to-back reveals very different approaches and moods. Chun reflected Fujii’s project; she wrote all the tunes, and the sound was intricate and often tempestuous, riding the pianist’s mix of breathtaking beauty with sudden tumults; sedate interludes juxtaposed with piano notes bursting like shards from a shattering glass.

Muko, on the other hand, is Tamura’s record. His approach here is quieter, more song-like and meditative, and likely to startle. The tunes, all Tamura’s, are culled from his previous trumpet/guitar/accordion/bass Gato Libre outings. The tunes, solemn and melodically simple and accessible, are perfect vehicles for the duo format. Tamura’s tone is pure beauty, as he eschews, for the most part, his un-trumpet-like squawks, belches, flutters and hissing whispers featured on so many of Fujii’s and his more adventurous outings. Fujii is also in a more straightforward frame of mind; with spare accompaniment to Tamura’s solemn interludes, there are moments of beautiful melancholy and deeply focused introspection.

“Dune and Star” opens the disc with a plaintive trumpet cry, a lonely fanfare of a sound. Fujii adds brief sparkles, then a reserved feeling of longing with darker notes. “In Barcelona, in June” starts with Tamura sputtering and wailing in front of Fujii’s stately playing, the tune gathering momentum in the direction of a joyful dance. The title tune blossoms patiently, sounding like a rumination over life’s regrets, in an oddly gorgeous fashion.

The music of Tamura and Fujii moves in many directions. With Muku, the duo has created one of its loveliest and most engaging recordings to date. — Dan McClenaghan

Natsuki Tamura | Satoko Fujii | Muku | libra records

 

CD version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)

€ 16.00
Quantity

3 thoughts on “Natsuki Tamura | Satoko Fujii | Muku | Libra Records

  1. It’s surprising that trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and pianist Satoko Fujii—partners in music and life—have only recorded five duet CDs during the course of their incredibly prolific and artistically fecund collaboration. As Fujii wryly explains in her liner notes, each of their duet recordings is different—some are entirely freely improvised, others consist solely of compositions written by either Fujii or Tamura. The location—an important metric in the Fujii/Tamura universe—of each duet recording has also been different. Recorded in New York City, Muku consists of nine steely Tamura compositions played with incredible depth and sensitivity by these master musicians. Tamura’s writing is highly concentrated, almost crepuscular—his melodies are brief and poignant, sometimes with a twist or two that might take a few listens to fully appreciate. They also serve as a springboard for evocative improvisations by both parties. Throughout Muku, Fujii and Tamura toy with the concepts of composition and improvisation, often balancing somber, minor key chord progressions with outré extended techniques, as on “In Barcelona, In June.” Yet, none of this comes across as an intellectual exercise. In fact, the music’s warmth and emotional directness is what makes Muku so appealing.

    Pretty much the whole CD moves at a deliberate, conversational pace, allowing the music to “soak in” rather than “happen to.” Though somber, thoughtful, and subdued moods prevail, the music has a palpable sense of drama. The duo’s affinity for Middle Eastern and Eastern European music is especially evident on “Dune and Star,” “In Barcelona, In June,” and “Patrol.” “Dune and Star” is particularly striking—Tamura’s yodeling, muezzin-like trumpet cries out over the tumult of Fujii’s dramatic, Don Pullen- informed avant-piano flourishes and clusters. Fujii’s lush, gorgeous solo on “Patrol” wanders so far from the piece’s original thread that the reintroduction of the jaunty, almost cartoon-like melody comes as a complete surprise. While “Galvanic” and “Clone” revisit the urgent, turbulent, and chaotic sound worlds for which Tamura and Fujii are best known, “In Paris, In February” is as lyrical, warm, and intimate as anything trumpeter Chet Baker ever did.

    Muku contains some truly stunning, spine-tingling music. The somber, almost melancholic tone of several of the pieces gives the impression that the duo is eulogizing their colleague, bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, who died shortly before this CD was recorded. Yet, this is not oppressive or heavy music; its sheer beauty and elegance is what lingers the most.

  2. Pianist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, wife and husband, maintain a staggering productivity, in terms of quantity, quality—and, most incredibly, in terms of variety. At one moment, they lead a powerful post-free ensemble; When We Were There (Polystar , 2006), with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black, is a particular high water mark in that vein. At another, they perform freely improvised duets (as on Chun (Libra, 2008).

    And then there’s Gato Libre, the couple’s quartet, rounded out by acoustic guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura and bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu. With Gato Libre, Fujii trades her piano for an accordion, and the whole band evinces an almost (but not quite) melancholy and Latin feel.

    Such wild swings in style and temperament, so rare during the earlier jazz eras (saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter were exceptions) are not unheard-of in our post-modern age. Saxophonist, impresario and rabble-rouser John Zorn is the exemplary case: tuneful bopper one moment, squawking anarchist the next. Fujii and Tamura, however, do not come across as po-mo dilettantes. Each of these radically different settings sounds entirely genuine, and there is an emotional and technical coherence among the many records made by the duo. In this regard their closest cousin may be trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, whose multitude of ongoing projects cover as much territory as the Fujii/Tamura musical world, all the while bearing Smith’s indelible imprint.

    Smith, moreover, is a pertinent reference for at least one other reason: on Forever, the Gato Libre record under review, Tamura steps back from the microphone, producing a warm, ambient sound not unlike that of Smith on his Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform, 2012). But while Smith makes that tone sound world-historical, Tamura makes it emotional and personal.

    Forever will be the last Gato Libre record for bassist Koreyasu—he died shortly after it was recorded. “World” is a poignant tribute, with ample, freely-executed arco bass. On “Nishiogi,” an extended solo highlights his expressive pizzicato technique. Throughout on Forever, the volume is low, but the mood is restive.

    Muku is of a piece with the earlier Fujii/Tamura duet dates, but is also linked to the Gato Libre project, given that the album consists entirely of songs originally written by Tamura for the accordion quartet. Tamura’s palette is broader than on the Gato Libre date: on ” In Barcelona, In June,” his breathy, sputtering effects, delivered over Fujii’s earnest tango chords, give way to altogether more conventional trumpet mastery, just as Fujii’s playing purposively flies further into Cecil Taylor-like extravagance. Indeed, it’s a compact distillation of the range and breadth of the pair’s musical conception.

    An enduring dimension of that musical conception is affecting songs. There are memorably lovely compositions, emotionally transparent, on both discs: “Moor,” “Hokkaido,” ” In Paris, In February,” and especially the title track of Muku.

  3. The restlessly innovative husband and wife team of trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and pianist Satoko Fujii have produced some of the most intriguing and invigorating music to come out of Japan. Although rooted in the jazz idiom, their explorations are on universal themes, drawing upon a variety of inspirations. Their work is primarily improvised, but not in the sense of a blowing session and more within the permissive construct of melodic and unconventional compositions.

    More often than not, it is Fujii who pens the pieces on their albums, but on Muku—meaning “purity”— it is Tamura who assumes the role of the tunesmith. As the title of this duo recording suggests, the stripped-down sound of two instruments is clean and free of rhythmic flourishes.

    The title track opens with crepuscular piano lines blended carefully with silent pauses. The distinctly Japanese melody is played in unison. Tamura peppers the Asian harmonies with Latin sounds. His gentle, breathy horn flutters between carefully placed bursts of Fujii’s note clusters. This type of east and west musical amalgamation is one of the album’s leitmotifs. “Dune and Star” opens with Tamura’s melancholic and longing tones backed by occasional bursts of piano notes. Fujii’s atmospheric vamp has strong eastern sensibilities as it plays behind Tamura’s bluesy and complex lilting improvisation.

    Although a strong lyricism runs through the album, it is not without its share of angular and mordant freedom. “In Barcelona, In June” is a romantic piano sonata enhanced with mellifluous, muted trumpet, which evolves into a fiery, unfettered and edgy extemporized duet.

    “Clone” is an avant-garde exploration of the piano’s range, with Fujii creating dark soundscapes filled by Tamura’s warm yet piercing fills. The seemingly dissonant exchange between the two endows the tune with certain theatricality.

    Like a modern day Joe King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton, Muku is a musical summit of kindred spirits that is destined to be a classic.

Leave a Review