trumpet - memory - dreamscapes
Any musician with talent, imagination and the desire to create something unique through their art winds up, I believe, making a concerted effort to expand the palette of their instrument or voice. Sometimes they choose to remain within their chosen genre (be it classical, jazz or whatever field in which they find their true expression) – others strain and push the limits of style to the point of bursting the envelope that attempts to contain them, giving artistic birth to something so new and different that they find themselves in a realm of their own invention. The work of Japanese trumpeter Natsuki Tamura falls variously into both of these categories. His work with his wife, renowned pianist Satoko Fujii, shows that he’s quite capable of performing in a jazz / free-jazz context, whether it’s in duo recordings with her or in her quartet or big-band ensembles. His own work, either with his quartet (which includes Satoko) or as a solo artist, tends to be more experimental and challenging. Every recording I’ve heard involving either or both of these two is a rewarding experience. Both of the releases I’m addressing here were recorded in 2003. Looking at the credits, one might imagine them to be completely different – they are at first listen, but as one allows this music to more deeply penetrate the psyche, certain elements can be recognized as shared properties.
Natuski Tamura Quartet
Libra (Japan), 2004
On Exit, Tamura is accompanied by Takayuki Kato (guitar), Satoko Fujii (synthesizer) and Ryojiro Furusawa (drums). The sound generated by this tight unit is very much in line with the cd cover image – the double-exposure combining inside / outside components, seemingly offering an exit from this world to another, is very evocative of the music itself. Tamura’s trumpet starts the first piece, appropriately entitled ‘Entrance’, with cascading echo-lines, with Satoko adding tuned percussive sounds from her keyboard along with angular, forceful punctuations from Furusawa and Kato. There are vocalizations as well – I’m guessing they’re coming from Tamura, but there is no mention of them in the notes – they add to the overall feeling of displacement and resurfacing memories and dreams that pervade not only this track, but most of both of these recordings. These feelings rise and fall with the sounds that conjure them, much in the same way that actual memories and dreams nudge their way into and out of our consciousness. I suspect that this is a purposeful attempt on Tamura’s part to evoke these feelings, to draw upon the effects of them in order to connect with not just his listeners, but with himself as well. It’s extremely effective – listening to this music for the first time, I had an underlying feeling of connectivity with its core that is otherwise unexplainable. ‘Endanger’ is led off again by Tamura’s trumpet, with the other instruments entering the arrangement in more subtle ways, creating a palpable surrounding presence that is vaguely threatening, the mood of the piece reflecting its title accurately. Tamura’s trumpet lines become more agitated, with bursts of lines that, again, evoke something perhaps once heard, perhaps mirroring an individual’s natural instinct of drawing upon something familiar and known when faced with the unsettling, possibly dangerous unknown.
‘Eliminate’ is a lengthier piece, clocking in at over 26 minutes, allowing the group to work through their ideas and stretch out with them – and they do so very well. Tamura’s trumpet coos, warbles, sings and screams over the bubbling background provided by his bandmates. Voice-like sounds are added to the mix – whether they’re generated live or drawn forth from samples is hard to determine, but they’re an effective addition to the mix. Melodies are touched upon in snatches; lines appear and disappear over the very effective foundation laid down by the others, whose melodic offerings are sometimes brought to the fore also. The churning rhythms of the opening section of the piece begin to fade around 7 minutes in, giving way to a more reflective section featuring Tamura’s trumpet sounding as if its tones are reaching the ears of the listener across an expanse of water, perhaps through fog – more audio equivalents of memory and dream elements, at times more felt than heard. The other instruments whisper and crackle in the background, giving the vivid impression of movement through space and / or time. Just after the half-way point in the piece, the others grow more insistent, finally charging back in to raise the energy level to a point even higher than that with which they began. Satoko’s synthesizer reasserts itself as a lead instrument, suddenly dropping out to leave the drums as the main voice – the others contribute accents, followed by the insertion of more vocalizations, then more trumpet, until everyone re-enters to close out the piece in a maelstrom of sound.
‘Expired’ is a more low-key affair overall, with Tamura’s echo-upon-echo trumpet lines offering the main trail through its darkness, with fine support from the others. His melodies zigzag over the musical landscape, with sounds (some of unknown origin) again surrounding the listener. It’s a little like seeing glowing eyes in the darkness when walking through a forest – they could be real or imaginary, benign and curious or quietly plotting. Organ-like sounds from Satoko’s synthesizer combine with Kato’s guitar in the middle section, brought to heightened reawakening by the trumpet and drums, a churning passage that gives way to the more reflective mood of the piece’s beginning to bring things to a close. The shortest track in the set, ‘Exit’, fittingly ends the album – staccato vocalizations are accompanied by a sporadically repeated melody line on the synth here and there that brings to mind ‘The girl from Ipanema’, which disappears again to allow the voice and percussive effects (drums or synthesizer) to bubble up here and there. The piece ends with echo-layered voices and a droning bass chord from the keyboard.
Ko ko ko ke
Natsat / Polystar (Japan), 2004
Ko ko ko ke is a true solo recording – Tamura produces all of the sounds himself with his trumpet and voice. The mood of this album is less frenetic than parts of Exit , but the effect of the music is no less insistent, drawing the listener into the audio world created by the artist. The elements of memory and dreams are present here as well (the cover photographs represent it beautifully visually), perhaps even more vivid in the less-populated audio canvas. Tamura is very obviously drawing upon his own memories here – not just directly, by way of tunes that he perhaps heard in his childhood, but in mood as well. The hazy, in-and-out-of-focus realm of time distance is recreated in an incredibly effective way here. There are snippets of songs – some tracks are performed solely as vocals – and evocations of traditional Japanese instruments (the shamisen and the taiko) as well. The album is as far as I can discern performed and recorded as heard, with no overdubs – it’s a process that leaves the artist literally naked before the listener, with no place to hide…but the honesty and sincerity with which Tamura presents these pieces adds a quality to the music that no amount of technology could ever match. He’ll play a few lines of melody on his trumpet, presented here with very little if any alteration, then sing a bit. There’s a childlike innocence and openness to not only his voice on this album, but to the entire project – it’s as if through the music he’s recorded here, he’s presenting his innermost self to the listener…and it’s a very moving experience, as well as being one that is incredibly satisfying on an artistic level. The album has a feeling of intimacy that permeates every single track – it’s almost as if he made this recording for himself. I’m very glad he chose to share it.
These recordings are a little hard to find in the US – but with a bit of online exploration, they can be found, along with his other works and releases by Satoko Fujii, all of which will give a more complete picture of two artists whose compositions and performances are as challenging as they are rewarding.
Natsuki Tamura on MySpace
Natsuki Tamura profile on Libra Records’ website