Following the example of his partner and spouse, Satoko Fujii, Natsuki Tamura has embarked on a year-long project of multiple, timed releases. Like his companion, Tamura has found that his trumpet is at home in numerous musical settings. One of his most popular ventures is the group Gato Libre which features Fujii on accordion rather than her customary piano; trombonist Yasuko Kaneko, a group member since 2014's DuDu (Libra), rounds out the trio. Since the inception of the group, Gato Libre has transformed from a quartet to a trio but maintained its original spirit. Sleeping Cat encompasses much of the group essence.
Tamura's trumpet growls like a caged animal as the title track opens the album. His indulgence is soon countered by the thoughtful entrances of Kaneko and Fujji. The trio then moves back and forth from restraint to spontaneous combustion. "Walking Cat" is eleven minutes of elegance. Kaneko's trombone mournfully knits together the melancholy of Tamura's trumpet and the lyrical drone of Fujii's accordion. The familiar non-formula approach which Tamura often takes is embodied in "Running Cat." The piece is a hodge-podge of melody, extended technique, and experimentalism. "Eating Cat" opens in a similar vein until Kaneko's trombone solo ushers in Fujii, and a pseudo-folkloric mannerism takes over. The closing piece, "Laughing Cat," is full of leisurely, but fractured, passages which lead to a quirky carnival conclusion.
One of the wonderful things about Gato Libre is the way Fujii's accordion interacts with Tamura's trumpet. Whether the trumpeter is in the throes of his trademark bleats and bursts or searching lyricism, the couple connect to create unparalleled improvisations. The sound of this unique partnership can manifest itself as ballast or chaos, dense fog, or piercing clarity. Often, these characteristics are present in a single composition. Tamura recorded Sleeping Cat at his home studio in Japan and Kaneko recorded remotely. It is one of Gato Libre's best albums.