Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura Two-fer!: Muku and Forever (2012)

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photo: Ryo Natsuki

Easily the most talented husband-wife team in avant-garde jazz since Carla and Paul Bley, Natsuki Tamura and Satoko Fujii are also among the few who are extremely productive without sacrificing anything artistically. In fact, every time I’m reviewing a Fujii/Tamura project, I’m reviewing several at a time: last July, we examined three of them and the year before, five new releases. Thankfully, there are just two new releases to write about this time.

The relief only comes in the time that was spent writing, more than offset by the fact that it only takes about an hour and forty-five minutes to listen through this latest batch.

Pianist/accordion player Fujii and trumpeter Tamura are able to keep the music both bountiful and fresh because they thrive on moving about among an entire gambit of arrangements, from full orchestras to unaccompanied solo, and employ different plans of attack each time they revisit a certain setting. One of the two new projects, Muku, is their fifth duo album, and the other, Forever, is their fifth by the Tamura-led Gato Libre quartet. This time, though, the simultaneously released records have a stronger connection: the duo album consists of all compositions Tamura had originally penned for the Gato Libre ensemble, and he’s the sole composer for the new Gato Libre songs presented on their new release. For both albums, Tamura’s trumpet is highly distinctive has a lonesome sound, contemplative, and at times unexpectedly abrasive, but always purposeful.

Muku, actually, begins the same way as Gato Libre’s Shiro did: with Tamura’s aching notes that begin “Dune And Star.” The bass line that defines the song gradually emerges in this version from the left hand of Fujii, who uses her right to add tension in the song that was absent in the original undertaking of the song. Tamura’s beautifully lugubrious trumpet brings the song back to its quiet base mood. Throughout the session, they extract elegance from the inspired construction of the composition itself (“Muku,” “In Barcelona, In June,” “Clone”), and a combination of both (“”In Paris, In February, straight up mood and attitude (“Patrol”).

Forever captures the group performing at one of their regular gigs at the Otoya Kintoki club in Tokyo on September 14, 2011. It will always be a special performance to Fujii and Tamura because before the month was up, the bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu had passed away suddenly, bringing an end to a chapter in the life of this group. The searching, involved bass lines he plays on “Moor” that seem to pull all the disparate parts together provide proof that he’ll be missed a lot.

“Hokkaido” utilizes each instrument in a way to create a sonic symmetry that you wouldn’t expect from this mixture of instruments, a Gato Libre hallmark: the backdrop created by Fujii’s accordion approximates a synth wash, while Koreyasu’s bowed bass lies on the other end of the spectrum providing a low-end drone. In the middle are Tamura and acoustic guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura intertwined with each other and then splitting off sequentially. The section where Tsumura solos in front of Koreyasu’s pizzicato bass is simply gorgeous. The two interact again with excellent results on “Waseda,” but this time the bass is bowed and Fujii’s accordion joins in on the conversation. Other pieces, such as “Court,” “World” and “Japan” move in the direction of chamber jazz, with a heavier emphasis on group symbiosis.

Exploratory but restrained; edgy but refined, Natsuki Tamura and Satoko Fujii have always thrived on taking contradictions and making them congruent. They do so again with a pair of quieter records that in their own subdued way nudge on the boundaries of modern creative music with all the confidence of their brash recordings.

Muku and Forever are both slated for release on September 5th, by Libra Records.

Purchase Muku here.

Purchase Forever here.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron

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