Gato Libre - Kuro (Libra, 2008) ****
This is the third album by Gato Libre, the Japanese chamber jazz quartet that brings European folk. Natsuki Tamura plays trumpet, his wife Satoko Fujii accordion, Kazuhiko Tsumura guitar and Norikatsu Koreyasu bass. Tamura is responsible for all the compositions and he's clearly the leader of the band. This record is a little better than its predecessor, if only because the tracks have more of an avant-garde edge, a little more harshness to interrupt the sweetness of the melodies. And these melodies are great, based on Spanish, Italian, and French folk music, and despite the initial clear rhythm and theme, the musicians are skilled enough to explore them, changing the harmonies in their improvisations, moving the pieces away from their confines, but gently, warmly, into musical territory that surprises even the notes making up the melody, as is the case on the waltzing second track. The third track, called Battle", delivers on its title, with the four musicians soloing consecutively, then all four fight over the tune together, free-for-all style, yet nicely ending in unison. This music is sad, nostalgic, melancholic, but created and played with a great cleverness and sense of humor. It has an enchanting lightness. Beyond" is more free, without clear structure, and Kuro", which means black" in Japanese, ends in all sweetness, a lullaby for Tamura's cat. Tamura's clear trumpet tone is a joy for the ear, but the other three musicians are also excellent.
Tamura is, like Fujii (more on her to come), a master of various genres, capable of blending styles, but also of creating a wonderful mix of sweet and hard sounds, integrating a touch of the bizarre into very familiar tunes. Even if you hear them for the first time, you seem to know them, as if they're part of the collective memory (at least in Europe), but then again they're not, the intimacy is kind of peeled away from it as the tunes evolve, slowly showing another reality behind it, and he's not unlike his compatriot, author Haruki Murakami, in that respect. The fact that he's taken the music a step further really pays off. Recommended.