Innovative trumpeter Natsuki Tamura is a creative artist with a wide repertoire that draws as much from modern improvised music as it does jazz and world folk heritages. Often a key collaborator in wife/pianist Satoko Fujii' inimitable ensembles, he emerges as a leader of the unique quartet Gato Libre on its fifth release, Forever.
Tamura's compositions have a strong Spanish flavor and brim with subtle yet robust creative spontaneity. On "Moor," the longing sound of Tamura's light vibrato contrasts with Fujii's edgy, restless accordion as she backs his lilting horn. The subsequent three-way conversation between Fujii, guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura and bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu is densely complex and stimulating, without losing Tamura's troubadour-like lyricism.
Fujii abandons her customary piano for the accordion, on which she demonstrates a sonorous virtuosity and her typical harmonic sophistication. Her elegiac tones shimmer like evening lights off dark water on the Mediterranean sounding "Nishiogi." Backed by Tsumura and Koreyasu's pizzicato rhythms, Fujii's angular poetry conjures the pensive romanticism of a quiet seaside evening.
This vaguely maritime theme runs through the album. The cinematic "Hokkaido" features Fujii and Koreyasu's atmospheric, undulating drone, buoying Tamura's martial and stately notes that evolve into a baroque improvisation. Tsumura's flamenco-ish, passionate guitar stylings dominate the bittersweet mood of the tune's second half.
Such western classical hints are apparent elsewhere as well. "Waseda," for instance, showcases Koreyasu's cello-informed sonata, while Tamura's statement of the theme is reminiscent of Joaquin Rodrigo's classic "Concierto de Aranjuez."
The sublime musicianship is not limited only to individual solos but it also runs strong in the ensemble work, particularly in the congenial and congruent exchange among band members. The languid and melancholic title track is a pair of diaphanous dialogues on a hot Andalucían summer afternoon. The cool yet passionate guitar and trumpet song melts into the wistful musings of bass and squeezebox. Fujii and Tamura open "Japan" as a contemplative duet, with Tsumura's walking strings enhancing the Zen-like aura of this melodic and quietly compelling piece.
With Forever, Tamura and Fujii once again demonstrate their universal facility with musical genres. They not only bend them; they shatter the boundaries between them and do it with creative grace and intelligent elegance.
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