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Gato Libre: Kuro (2008)

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Gato Libre: Kuro How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

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.

Track Listing: Sunny Spot; Patrol; Battle; Reconcile; Together; Beyond; Kuro.

Personnel: Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Satoko Fujii: accordion; Kazuhiko Tsumura: guitar; Norikatsu Koreyasu: bass.

Record Label: Libra Records

Style: Modern Jazz


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