It’s high time I caught up with the prolific Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura, who have been making music together since 1997. Since then they have recorded 27 albums with various groups for their own label, Libra, alone. Their two latest albums are reviewed here. Also see Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York – ETO + Rafale – Kaze.
Muku (2012, Libra Records) is the couple’s fifth duo album. Their last, Chun (2008, Libra Records), featured mostly pieces composed by Fujii. On Muku, all compositions are by Tamura.
“Dune and Star” exemplifies the blend of pungency and lucid elegance that characterises the duo’s work. Tamura’s trumpet carries a bold, expressive tone that’s suffused with a brassy, breathy warmth that occasionally reminds me of Thomas Stanko – no bad thing.
In “In Barcelone, in June”, Fujii’s emphatic and dramatic piano carries a Spanish dance vibe even as it irrupts into tightly bound clusters. Tamura freely extemporises, an admixture of wisps and farts escaping his pressurised embouchure, blurring lines otherwise defined with noble boldness.
“Galvanic” (well titled) is just as vigorous, a disputatious three and a half minutes. “Patrol”, on the other hand, is almost swooningly lush. Here, the duo inhabit the sort of narrative space usually reserved for larger ensembles.
The way the couple (yes, Fuji and Tamura are married) play so effectively within shared parameters, without necessarily commenting directly on one another’s lines (witness “In Paris, in February”), exemplifies the gains for the listener in such an intimate, harmonious concurrency.
Gato Libre is a quartet that features Fujii on accordion rather than piano, and Tamura’s trumpet alongside Kazuhiko Tsumura (guitar), and Norikatsu Koreyasu (bass). Forever (2012 – Libra Records) is the group’s fifth album since 2005.
Although the quartet began as an expansion of Tamura’s duo with Koreyasu, Tamara became the band leader, and all the pieces here are his compositions.
Forever was recorded live at Otaya Kintoki on 14 September 2011. Koreyashu died later that month.
It’s impossible, with that knowledge, not to hear this music as rooted primarily in Koreyashu’s bass sound, and indeed, in his liner notes, Tamura writes that Koreyasu “was able to create the music he did because he had an ideal sound in his mind that he pursued relentlessly”.
That emphatic bass underpins the grace and studied formality of a music which, with it’s animating blend of acoustic guitar and accordion, vividly evokes idiomatic folk forms, but also, at its most exuberant, something more akin to the film scores of Nino Rota.
The intro to “Hokkaido” is a bowed bass drone with the accordion producing sympathetically crisp sustains. As the trumpet carries the tune’s measured melody, the guitar plays in lissom counterpoint. In a later duet passage, Koreyashu’s bass takes up a supple rhythm which Fujii contrasts with melancholic lamentation. A subsequent bass dialogue with Tamura is more laconic.
This sort of self-effacing submission to the music is also witnessed in Tamura’s withholding. He seldom really asserts himself as a soloist. One exception is his bold and decisive solo seven minutes into “Nishiogi”; another is his dominance of the album’s concluding title, “Forever”.
More typically, Tamura’s trumpet acts as a conduit for the melodic core of the song, as on “Waseda”. Here, while bass and guitar begin with a vibrant pas de deux, the bass insinuates an underlying pulse which the guitar breaks off its duet to embellish, while the accordion plays harmonic fils.
Tamura’s music, though composed, is highly sensitive to the individuality of its chosen interpreters, and supremely democratic, and Koreyashu couldn’t have wished for a finer testimonial than this album. Witness “World”, on which his bass carries not just the melody but the mood of the music, with poignantly unadorned sensitivity.