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Gato Libre: Forever

Dave Wayne By

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Gato Libre is the most unexpected manifestation of the multifaceted collaboration between trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and pianist Satoko Fujii. This understated quartet of bass, acoustic guitar, trumpet and accordion creates a sound world that is totally unique: serene, atmospheric, and seemingly contrary to the duo's other collaborative musical ventures. Gato Libre's music isn't a fusion or cross-cultural adventure, though it seems to have started out that way. Instead, Tamura, Fujii and their colleagues have devised a music that exists sui generis. At various times, Forever recalls the work of early 20th Century composers, particularly Erik Satie and Béla Bartók, French bal-musette, gypsy jazz, and, in its darkest moments, the 1980s Belgian Darkwave, as exemplified by the earliest recordings of groups such as Art Zoyd and Univers Zero. These resemblances, it must be stressed, are completely unintentional.

Tamura is the chief creative force behind the group. Most of the compositions on Forever have a central, Satie-like melodic kernel with bridges and solo sections that radiate outwards like ripples on a pool of still water where a stone has been dropped. Tamura's pieces turn from tuneful consonance to extreme dissonance and slowly back, governed by an inscrutable logic. Moderate-to-slow tempos dominate, yet Tamura clearly loves the use of rhythm to build tension— "Court" and "Japan" are hung on heavily syncopated, oddly accented guitar, bass, and accordion parts. Though every track on Forever has a solo or two, the improvisations themselves tend to be understated and spacious, proceeding at a pace that is both unworried and unhurried.

Throughout, Tamura plays his trumpet open, without mutes. Forever's live recording does no favors for Tamura's bold, bright sound, yet his direct, lyrical approach more than offsets the unflattering room sound. His solo on "Moor" is both deliberate and beautifully constructed. His finest moment on Forever comes during "Hokkaido," where he wanders quixotically over a series of bass and accordion drones, building slowly to a fever pitch before releasing his grip to make way for a lovely guitar-bass dialogue.

Though Fujii's accordion playing seemed tentative on the quartet's first couple of recordings, her playing has become increasingly bold and stylized, taking cues from the likes of Pauline Oliveros and Guy Klucevsek. She revels in the instrument's unique properties and sound possibilities on the stormily dissonant "Nishiogi," approaching the accordion as a wind instrument, wringing out long sustained tones whose trajectories she alters mid-flight. Most of Gato Libre's jazz content comes courtesy of the fluid, limber guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura, who solos most effusively on "Moor" and "Hokkaido." Bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, who tragically died shortly after this recording, maintains a Charlie Haden-like presence, anchoring the trio of high-pitched instruments with deep, earthy tones. His arco solos on "Waseda" and "World" are wonderful—pitch perfect and horn-like in their articulation and mobility.

Forever is yet another strangely beautiful and spellbinding creation from two of the most significant musicians in the world today.

Track Listing: Moor; Court; Hokkaido; Waseda; Nishiogi; Japan; World; Forever.

Personnel: Natsuki Tamura; Satoko Fujii; Kazuhiko Tsumura; Norikatsu Koreyasu.

Title: Forever | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Libra Records

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