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Gato Libre: Neko

Dan McClenaghan By

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Trumpeter Natsuki Tamura's Gato Libre could now be called Gato Diferente. The group's lineup changed five albums into its journey, after the release of Forever (Libra Records, 2011), with the death of bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu. And changed again with the addition—after Norikatsu's passing—of trombonist Yasuko Kaneko. Then, in 2015, the group's guitarist, Kazuhiko Tsumura passed, leaving Tamura and Satoko Fujii—who plays accordion in the group, rather than her more customary piano—and the leader, Tamura, as the sole original members of the group. Trombonist Kaneko remained, but the question was—for the second time in the groups life: Will we carry on?

The release of Neko says "Yes? But the free cat has changed.

From their beginning, with the release of Strange Village (Muzak, 2005) through 2014's DuDu, Gato Libre has embraced European folk moods in their music, sounds that conjure images of sidewalk cafe's, sun dappled canals, a blanket spread on the meadow grass, with a bottle of wine and a vase of flowers sitting on a tray amidst the wildflowers. Life-affirming sounds, a southern Europe of the romance languages. Neko seems leave the continent all together, or perhaps it just packed up its mood and moved north, into the land of grey clouds and cathedrals, of stately, foreboding castles, with Fujii's accordion having often a church organ feeling.

Tamura, a master of extended techniques, plays it mostly straight here, showcasing his beautiful tone. That's the way he's always rolled with Gato Libre. Kaneko's trombone lays the foundation, dense and melancholy; and Fujii's accordion work paints droning washes of sound that give the music a sacred tint. And then, on "Hime," there's Tamura's understated Daffy Duck calls and Kaneko's subtle sea lion groans floating into Fuji's divine sacramental sigh's, a perfect example of bumping the ridiculous up against the sublime.

For the most part, Gato Libre sounds sad, subdued, as if it's mourning in beautifully healing way. As free as ever, but more pensive and measured in its approach.

Track Listing: Tama; Momo; Mii; Hime; Yuzu; Tora.

Personnel: Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Satyoko Fujii: accordion; Yasuko Kaneko: trombone.

Title: Neko | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Libra Records

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