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Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura: Emotional Intimacy, Musical Breadth

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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Natsuki Tamura & Satoko Fujii




Gato Libre




Pianist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, wife and husband, maintain a staggering productivity, in terms of quantity, quality—and, most incredibly, in terms of variety. At one moment, they lead a powerful post-free ensemble; When We Were There (Polystar , 2006), with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black, is a particular high water mark in that vein. At another, they perform freely improvised duets (as on Chun (Libra, 2008).

And then there's Gato Libre, the couple's quartet, rounded out by acoustic guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura and bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu. With Gato Libre, Fujii trades her piano for an accordion, and the whole band evinces an almost (but not quite) melancholy and Latin feel.

Such wild swings in style and temperament, so rare during the earlier jazz eras (saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter were exceptions) are not unheard-of in our post-modern age. Saxophonist, impresario and rabble-rouser John Zorn is the exemplary case: tuneful bopper one moment, squawking anarchist the next. Fujii and Tamura, however, do not come across as po-mo dilettantes. Each of these radically different settings sounds entirely genuine, and there is an emotional and technical coherence among the many records made by the duo. In this regard their closest cousin may be trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, whose multitude of ongoing projects cover as much territory as the Fujii/Tamura musical world, all the while bearing Smith's indelible imprint.

Smith, moreover, is a pertinent reference for at least one other reason: on Forever, the Gato Libre record under review, Tamura steps back from the microphone, producing a warm, ambient sound not unlike that of Smith on his Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform, 2012). But while Smith makes that tone sound world-historical, Tamura makes it emotional and personal.

Forever will be the last Gato Libre record for bassist Koreyasu—he died shortly after it was recorded. "World" is a poignant tribute, with ample, freely-executed arco bass. On "Nishiogi," an extended solo highlights his expressive pizzicato technique. Throughout on Forever, the volume is low, but the mood is restive.

Muku is of a piece with the earlier Fujii/Tamura duet dates, but is also linked to the Gato Libre project, given that the album consists entirely of songs originally written by Tamura for the accordion quartet. Tamura's palette is broader than on the Gato Libre date: on " In Barcelona, In June," his breathy, sputtering effects, delivered over Fujii's earnest tango chords, give way to altogether more conventional trumpet mastery, just as Fujii's playing purposively flies further into Cecil Taylor-like extravagance. Indeed, it's a compact distillation of the range and breadth of the pair's musical conception.

An enduring dimension of that musical conception is affecting songs. There are memorably lovely compositions, emotionally transparent, on both discs: "Moor," "Hokkaido," " In Paris, In February," and especially the title track of Muku.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Moor; Court; Hokkaido; Waseda; Nishiogi; Japan; World; Forever.

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


Tracks: Dune and Star; In Barcelona, In June; Muku; Galvanic; Patrol; In Paris, In February; Clone.

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

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