Saturday, July 15, 2017

Gato Libre - Neko: trumpeter-composer Natsuki Tamura's Gato Libre trio release "Neko" (LIBRA RECORDS)

Acclaimed trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and Gato Libre blend simple melody, sensitive group improvisation and understated melancholy on new recording Neko

New trio version of band with Tamura, Satoko Fujii on accordion 
and Yasuko Kaneko on trombone 

 “[Fujii] switches to accordion in this context, giving the music a strong European flair–whether evoking a café on the Left Bank of Paris or a funeral service somewhere in the former Yugoslavia–but ultimately the tone is set by the alert contrapuntal improvising of Tamura and trombonist Yasuko Kaneko.” – Peter Margasak, DownBeat reviewing Gato Libre’s 2014 recording DuDu

“4 stars…DuDu follows the winning formula of its predecessors but, as with the other discs, eschews the formulaic. The result is another sublimely satisfying, elegant record that brims with raw excitement and a reflective nostalgia.” – Hrayr Attarian, All About Jazz reviewing Gato Libre’s 2014 recording DuDu

On their seventh album, Neko (available June 16, 2017 on Libra Records), trumpeter-composer Natsuki Tamura’s Gato Libre triumphs over adversity to produce what is perhaps their most radical and powerful album yet. With the recent death of their guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura, Gato Libre carries on as a trio featuring Satoko Fujii on accordion and Yasuko Kaneko on trombone. Paring away the references to ethnic folk melodies and dance rhythms heard on previous albums, Gato Libre’s latest incarnation transcends genre boundaries and soars into a realm of austere, beautiful, and majestic sadness that hardly any music—regardless of genre—ever touches.

Gato Libre began life in 2003 as a quartet featuring Tamura, Fujii (on accordion rather than her primary instrument, the piano), guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura, and bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu. The original quartet released five albums between 2005 and 2011, when bassist Koreyasu suddenly and unexpectedly died. After a brief search for another musician who could be true to the group’s concept while bringing an original voice to the band, Tamura invited trombonist Yasuko Kaneko to join the group as its fourth member. They released their only album, DuDu, in 2014. Hrayr Atarian praised it in All About Jazz as a “sublimely satisfying, elegant record that brims with raw excitement and a reflective nostalgia.” In 2015, tragedy struck the band again with the death of guitarist Tsumura, just days before a concert at Tokyo’s famous jazz club, Pit Inn. Tamura was devastated to have lost two of his closest collaborators in such a short time and wasn’t at all sure that he wanted the band to continue. “It was difficult to continue Gato Libre because Kazuhiko and Norikatsu were so important to the band’s original sound. They were also good friends,” Tamura says. “But Satoko pushed me strongly to keep the band going, so I tried it just once again. As a result, it was better than I expected. I think I will continue this band.”

And so Gato Libre once again rises from the ashes of sorrow for their seventh album, which will also be available in a limited edition LP, as well as CD. Haunted by the spirits of its members who have passed, the recording signals a new, adventurous direction for the group. Shedding stylistic and ethnic-music references—such as the tango or Eastern European or Japanese folk musics of previous releases—Gato Libre nevertheless retains folk music’s elemental power to convey feeling simply and directly while using modern extended techniques, collective improvisation, and jazz soloing. “Tama” showcases the careful blending together of voices in perfect balance. Instruments come in and out of the ensemble to play the wistful melody or solo over a soft drone played by one or more of the other band members. When they play a melody together, as they do on “Momo” and “Yuzo,” there’s a soaring, mystical quality to the music. Tamura has never sounded so vulnerable and tender as he does during his solo on “Momo.” And he plays with impish humor on “Hime,” making muttering duck sounds against Fujii’s solemn, church-organ chords, in a performance that encompasses both absurdity and sadness.

Japanese trumpeter and composer Natsuki Tamura is internationally recognized for his unique musical vocabulary blending extended techniques with jazz lyricism. This unpredictable virtuoso “has some of the stark, melancholy lyricism of Miles, the bristling rage of late ’60s Freddie Hubbard and a dollop of the extended techniques of Wadada Leo Smith and Lester Bowie,” observes Mark Keresman of Throughout his career, Tamura has led bands with radically different approaches. On one hand, there are avant rock jazz fusion bands like his quartet, whose album Hada Hada Peter Marsh of the BBC described this way: “Imagine Don Cherry woke up one morning, found he'd joined an avant goth-rock band and was booked to score an Italian horror movie.”

In contrast, Tamura has focused on the intersection of folk music and sound abstraction with Gato Libre since 2003. The band’s poetic, quietly surreal performances have been praised for their “surprisingly soft and lyrical beauty that at times borders on flat-out impressionism,” by Rick Anderson in CD Hotlist. In addition, Tamura has recorded five CDs in his ongoing duo with pianist (and wife) Satoko Fujii. Tamura also collaborates on many of Fujii’s projects, from quartets and trios to big bands. As an unaccompanied soloist, he’s released three CDs, including Dragon Nat (2014). He and Fujii are also members of Kaze, a collaborative quartet with French musicians, trumpeter Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orins. “As unconventional as he may be,” notes Marc Chenard in Coda magazine, “Natsuki Tamura is unquestionably one of the most adventurous trumpet players on the scene today.”

In keeping Gato Libre alive, Tamura has refined his vision of the band and given it new depth and power.