Satoko Fujii & Natsuki Tamura: Gen Himmel / Dragon Nat / Tornado

Hrayr Attarian By

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Pianist Satoko Fujii and her husband trumpeter Natsuki Tamura are one of the most boldly creative and fearlessly innovative couples in contemporary music. For the past three years they have also been quite prolific, releasing eight albums on their own Libra Records alone. This increase in productivity, however, has not come at the expense of quality or originality. Whether together in one of their regular groups or alone they continue to push the boundaries of improvisation and composition.

Satoko Fujii
Gen Himmel
Libra Records

On the unaccompanied piano session Gen Himmel, Fujii creates a mystical ambience with darkly hued, contemplative pieces. "Take Right" opens with church bell-like chimes of the keys. Gradually Fujii expands the spirituality of the tune beyond ritual to a sublime transcendence, especially as she utilizes carefully placed silent pauses that plucked strings punctuate. At the climax, all form disintegrates in an intense passion of exhilarating sonic swirls. The piece closes on quieter, blues-tinged tone.

Fujii's ability to spontaneously weave complex textures and patterns is remarkable enough but she goes a step further. She often unravels her own musical constructs to rebuild in a different direction. Her "Dawn Broun" is founded on a deceptively simple vamp out of which she constructs and deconstructs the stimulating theme over and over until she achieves intelligent, angular crystalline structures.

Fujii is also fond of basic notal clusters that she can use to dramatic effect with her intricate ad-lib pianism. "Ram" for instance is a meditatively peaceful tune that the progression of the elementary refrains endows with a powerful ethereal effect.

Throughout she maintains a strong level of melodicism as on the lilting lullaby "Summer Solstice" and the crepuscular "Der Traum." The latter's shimmering lines and echoing phrases grow brighter as the album concludes.

With each new provocative work Fujii's ingenuity grows, making her music ever fresh and delightfully thrilling.

Natsuki Tamura
Dragon Nat
Libra Records

A solo trumpet record is bound to raise eyebrows but Tamura is someone who can pull it off with elegance and sophistication. He does that on Dragon Nat, a set of ten, energetic yet simultaneously serene originals.

Certainly not for mainstream tastes the disc, nevertheless, contains haunting and complex music that conjures a wide range of emotion. The bittersweet "Forever" is an undulating mellifluous ballad with elements of both melancholy and joy that closes with eastern harmonic flavors. The nostalgic "In Berlin, In September" is a yearning, achingly gorgeous track that evolves into an expansive and mesmerizing poem.

The centerpiece of the CD is the Zen "Dialogue." Ringing bells and softly blowing trumpet create a serene and somber atmosphere. As the percussive elements quiet down Tamura lays down hypnotic, tightly woven and introspective lines. The title does not only refer to the conversation between horn and carillon but also that between the visceral and cerebral. Hand drum beats and his distinctive vocalizations through the mouthpiece add a primal earthiness to the piece.

The intriguing record closes with the pastoral "Matsuri" bisected by a burst of cascading notes. Much like other avant-garde single instrument albums; for instance saxophonists Anthony Braxton's For Alto (Delmark, 1970) and Evan Parker's The Snake Decides (Incus, 1988) or trombonist George Lewis' The Solo Trombone Record (Sackville, 1976), Dragon Nat requires concentration and a committed and an open ear to fully savor. It, however, like its predecessors makes for an immensely rewarding and thought-provoking listening experience.

Libra Records

Kaze; Japanese for wind, is the collaborative quartet of two-trumpet frontline of Tamura and Christian Pruvost. It creates exhilarating and dramatic music where the individual band members' expressions blend in the equally imaginative group play. On Tornado the horns often blow in unison as a singular, double bell brass while at other times they duel like a double-headed creature.

"Wao" opens with Tamura and Provost's unified resonating, thick long notes that evolves into vibrato filled phrases of atonality. This leads to the explosive energetic collective improvisation with Fujii's angular deluge of notes and drummer Peter Orins' rumbling, elaborate polyrhythms.

On the title track Tamura and Povost carry on a clever, sometimes whimsical, dialogue of flitters, squeaks and chants that emerges from Fujii's electrifying circular pianism and Orins' harmonically rich beats. The group deftly mixes elements of artful noise into the melodic convention of the piece

The tense and cinematic "Triangle," opens with Provost's fluttering gust alternating with Tamura's whimpering swish. Orrins' percussion rustles in the breeze as the piano innards vibrate. A hypnotic, mellifluous ensemble sound reaches a climax and abruptly fades away shining the spotlight on the trumpets. A delightfully cacophonic composite extemporization leads to Orrins' almost melodic, and breathtakingly agile drum work, which fades, into a marche funėbre of sort. Out of that melancholy emerges Fujii's pensive and elegiac solo that evolves into a passionate, edgy sonata before the band's fiery and thrilling conclusion.

Fujii and Tamura have not lost any creative momentum, on the contrary, their output continues to grow and mature while retaining its youthful energy. Their oeuvre will surely stand the test of time.

Tracks and Personnel

Gen Himmel

Tracks: Gen Himmel; In the Dusk; Hesitation; Take Right; Ram; A.S.; Dawn Broun; Summer Solistice; I Know You Don't Know; Ittari Kitari; Saka; Der Traum.

Personnel: Satoko Fujii: piano.

Dragon Nat

Tracks: Shiro; Dragon Nat; Forever; Dialogue;In Berlin, In September; Wunderbar; World; Matsuri.

Personnel: Natsuki Tamura: trumpet, percussion.


Tracks: Wao; Mecanique; Tornado; Imokidesu; Triangle.

Personnel: Christian Pruvost: trumpet; Natsuki Tamura: trumpet; Satoko Fujii: piano; Peter Orins: drums.

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