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Gato Libre: Shiro

Dan McClenaghan By

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Japanese trumpeter Natsuki Tamura's name is most often mentioned in the press for his work with his wife, Satoko Fujii. The Japanese pianist casts a blinding light with her prolific output, and a fearless and unfettered musical vision. Tamura sits in as either a sideman or collaborator on many, if not most, of her CDs.

If Fujii is superhuman in her output as a leader, Tarmura is closer to mortal, though no less adventurous. He has produced sets as disparate as the electric, sizzling Exit (NatSat Music, 2004), the gentle and incantatory solo disc, Ko Ko Ko Ke (NatSat Music, 2004),the radioactive Hada Hada (Libra Records, 2003), and, with Gato Libre, a string of European folks musings including Shiro.

The Gato Libre discs—Shiro is the fourth in the series—feature the Tamura/Fujii pairing at its most tranquil. The quartet—with Tamura using his trumpet in a mostly traditional, straightforward fashion (seldom the case)—also features bassist Norikatsu Koreya, guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura, and Fujii, substituting accordion for her primary instrument, the piano.

Gato Libre is not about individual virtuosity, though there is plenty to go around. These are explorations of the southern European sound in a relaxed, introspective, collaborative mode. The group sounds like a band of good friends gathered in a Spanish café at the end of a work week, breaking out the instruments after a good meal and glasses of red wine to create something intimate, something true to the simple beauty of the folk tradition.

"Dune and Star" opens the disc, with Tamura's solo trumpet issuing a plaintive cry. The mood is unhurried and timeless, as his band-mates join him in what sounds like a spare sketch from Miles Davis' classic Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1960).

As soothing and tranquil as Gato Libre's music can be, the quartet can also—no surprise with Tamura and Fujii involved—get quite "out there." On "Scorpion," the group disassembles the music to a point of near chaos, with Fujji's jittery wheezing and Tamura's pained wails in front of Koreyasu's ominous bowed bass, until Fujii lets out a sigh of release, and the music gels back in the direction of tradition.

Tamura's career has largely been about dissolving musical boundaries. With Gato Libre and Shiro, the trumpeter extends his reach even deeper into the prettiest, most accessible of his endeavors.

Track Listing: Dune and Star; Waterside; Scorpion; Falling Star; Going Back Home; Mountain, River, Sky; Memory of Journey; Shiro.

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

Title: Shiro | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Libra Records


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