Natsuki Tamura: In Krakow in November, Nomad & Crossword Puzzle

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura
In Krakow in November
Not Two

Gato Libre
No Man's Land

Double Duo
Crossword Puzzle

Incessant touring schedules and a recorded output that rivals label contracts of the '60s can make the almost incessantly productive duo of Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura hard to keep up with. Each leads numerous groups and plays in the other's and each is given to numerous side projects and one-off meetings. As such, their duets can be seen as annual reports, an updating of where their various spokes are pointing.

In Krakow in November is a strong showing of their recent interests. Recorded in Poland in November 2005, it is perhaps most notable for Tamura's dominance. While the trumpeter is often in the shadows of his pianist wife, here five of the eight pieces are his, three of those — including the title track — also recorded by his excellent group Gato Libre.

Fujii and Tamura play beautifully together and the Krakow studio session is a lovely, somber affair. They open with the title track from Gato Libre's first album, 2005's Strange Village. It's rare for the pair to revisit compositions — they seem to have too much forward momentum for that — but here it's great to hear new arrangements of familiar tunes. With the Gato Libre project, Tamura has 180'd from his quirky, sometimes noisy work of just a few years ago and has been writing unabashedly beautiful, Spanish-inflected melodies for his new group. Here, without guitar or rhythm section, Fujii's romantic playing sets them at a different angle. Without space between the tracks, the album comes off as a suite and 22 minutes in, when Fujii's first piece begins, it's immediately apparent how different they still are. If Tamura has dropped some of the humor and abstraction of his earlier work, Fujii is still the jazzier of the two. With "Ninepin the tempo picks up, the melodies come out of hiding and Tamura meets her with bright, boppy playing.

But if Krakow is a sampler of their recent work, it'd be a mistake to stop there. Nomad, Gato Libre's second record, is even more gorgeous than the first. With Fujii on accordion, the group has a very different feel than anything either has done before. But the real star here is Kazuhiko Tsumara. His acoustic guitar sings throughout, comping with the bass in the drummerless rhythm section and playing lovely flamenco lines. The disc would seem to be the result of their life on the road — being founded neither in Japanese forms nor American jazz but Spanish folk and also in the titling. Leading a nomadic life on the road, Tamura penned ten pieces (each like the Krakow title, naming a different city and a different month). Not surprisingly, "In Madrid, In August stands out as the fullest realization of the group's wanderlust.

Trumpeter Angelo Verploegen writes in the liner notes to his Double Duo's disc Crossword Puzzle that when Amsterdam's Bimhuis invited him to put together a new group, Fujii and Tamura were his immediate choice to mirror a duo of himself and pianist Misha Mengelberg. Mengelberg leads the much-heralded ICP Orchestra and his playfulness and love of Thelonious Monk makes for an intriguing balance against Fujii's Paul Bley-mentored touch. For better or worse, the set comes off as what it is: an off-the-cuff meeting, with a good bit of cautious feeling-each-other-out and a few moments of magic. The first track, "a butterfly, bee, mantis and grasshopper , clocks in at over half an hour and is aptly named; while being quite musical, it has the feel of four different insects buzzing around each other, not sure what to make of the jar they're trapped in. The shorter second track, "a prescription , might be taken to be the group finding itself. It opens with a speedy piano duo, then slows down to Mengelberg playing choppy chords and Fujii finding a melody within. The trumpets don't come in until the fourth of the track's 10 minutes, at which point the group seems to have found a bit more of a center. All in all it's a fun disc, but when the group is comprised of composers as engaging as Fujii, Mengelberg and Tamura, it's hard not to want more.

Tracks and Personnel

In Krakow in November

Tracks: Strange Village; A North Wind; Morning Mist; Ninepin; A Holothurian; In Krakow, In November; Explorer; Inori.

Personnel: Satoko Fujii: piano; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet.


Tracks: In Krakow, In November; In Glasgow, In May; In Paris, In February; In Barcelona, In June; In Madrid, In August; In Berlin, In September; In Budapest, In April; In Lausanne, In January; In Gent, In December; In Venice, In October.

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

Crossword Puzzle

Tracks: A butterfly, bee, mantis, and grasshopper; A prescription.

Personnel: Angelo Verploegen: trumpet; Misha Mengelberg: piano; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Satoko Fujii: piano.

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