Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Gato Libre – Shiro

“Our fourth cd release,” says Gato Libre trumpeter/bandleader Natsuki Tamura, “Is largely thanks to Otoya-Kintoki, the live house where we play in Nishi-Ogikubo, Tokyo. As soon as we finish a performance there, regardless of whether customers showed up or not (usually the latter), the couple who run the place always ask us, ‘When can you play here next? Do you have an open date next month?’ To which I say, ‘Are you sure that’s all right with you? Hardly anyone ever shows up at our gigs.'” Bless the folks at Otoya-Kintoki for sustaining this excellent if not exactly popular instrumental quartet. Besides Tamura, the band features Satoko Fujii on accordion, Kazuhiko Tsumura on acoustic guitar and Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass. Another thing that stands in Gato Libre’s path to worldwide recognition is how diverse and genre-smashing they are. Although they’re all accomplished (and actually famous) jazz players, this particular band blends elements of flamenco, Middle Eastern, gypsy and rock music into a fearlessly improvisational free-for-all. It works because it’s all about atmosphere, there’s a tight chemistry between band members, and Tamura’s stunningly terse, catchy themes make such a good basis for jams.

The first track is a perfect illustration: simple variations on a minor chord, plaintive accordion segue into brisk flamenco-flavored modal tune, accordion acidically shadowing the guitar’s nimble runs, incisive Arab-inflected trumpet solo and a big flamencoesque chordal crescendo as a trick ending. The next cut lets the bass state a thoughtful theme which then rises ominously with a series of crescendos and then an otherworldly jam where everybody goes off to a cabaret of the mind. The aptly titled Falling Star is stark and gypsy-tinged, highlit by a terse modal conversation between guitar and bass. Going Back Home is a swinging Balkan dance that Fujii slowly ushers outside into the netherworld where the rest of the band join her – Tamura offers up a sad flamenco solo, and then they’re off to the races again.

Mountain, River, Sky is essentially a country song, bass introducing the theme and then counterintuitively carrying the lead for most of its eight minutes; Memory of Journey [sic] sends a stately levantine dance further south on a tricky, rhythmic West African tangent followed by the most overtly post-bop passages on the album. The album wraps up with the warmly bucolic title track, evocative of the jazz/country hybrids of Jeremy Udden or Bill Frisell. Gato Libre may not be very popular but they’ve managed to put out one of the best albums of the year, one that will resonate equally well with fans of Balkan and gypsy music as well as adventurous rock and jazz people.

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March 12, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Minamo – Kuroi Kawa – Black River

Minamo is the Japanese term for the water’s surface. Beneath this particular surface runs an aptly titled Black River, occasionally bubbly and playful but often murderously powerful. This might be the best jazz album of the year, or the best album of the year in any style – the latest Tzadik cd by the duo project of Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and American violinist Carla Kihlstedt is equal part avant-garde/new music, with frequent references to Japanese folk themes. With its often violent drama,  much of it would make a killer (sorry) horror film score.  It’s a double cd, one featuring subtly and cleverly improvised, often Satie-esque miniatures, the other a live recording far more expansive and dangerous. What’s most immediately striking is the practically telepathic interplay between Fujii amd Kihlstedt – one would think they were twins, or at least sisters. Both use the totality of their instruments, Kihlstedt adept at hair-raising overtones, Fujii raking the inside of the piano with what sounds like steel wool when she isn’t generating tonalities on the keys that literally run the length of the sonic spectrum. For those with the courage to take the plunge, it’s an exhilarating ride.

Everything here seems rubato – while each musician will often introduce a steady rhythm, they’ll both cut loose without warning, yet without losing their grip on the atmosphere at hand unless they do so deliberately. The opening cut, The Murmur of Leaves sets a brooding, pensive tone that will recur again and again, sometimes much more harshly. The third track, East comes skidding in, Kihlstedt’s violin like a banshee astride a steed from hell, moving to a full-on horror-film assault before ending on a surprisingly subdued if still disquieting note. A music-box theme matching midrange piano against pizzicato violin maintains the suspense, which lets up with a completely silly if equally evocative vignette, two girls struggling to open what must be one heavy window. Another lighthearted number is literally a musical lolcat – it’s hard to imagine a funnier or more evocative depiction of ADD. Elsewhere, a pretty, reflective tone poem grows menacing; Fujii glimmers ominously in the upper registers against Kilhlsted’s graceful glides; Kihlstedt plays what sounds like a rousing bagpipe tune against Fujii’s circular hypnotics; and finally, with a big, fluttery crescendo, the sun emerges triumphantly from behind the clouds! But that’s not til track twelve.

The second cd opens with the title track, which explodes with a crash and a scream (Fujii and Kihlstedt, respectively), moving hauntingly in the span of almost fourteen minutes to the most minimal, plaintive ambience punctuated dramatically with empty space, Kihlstedt finally leading a hauntedly resigned, swirlingly hypnotic climb out of the hole.  The compositions here are all color-coded, though musically their colors don’t vary much from various shades of black and grey. Blue Slope scrapes and murmurs with rain-drenched sadness until Kihlstedt lets loose a couple of shrieks at the end, to which Fujii replies gracefully and sympathetically. Purple Summer is raw and aggressive, accentuated with vigorous vocalese. Red Wind is a game of tag, both instruments introducing playful, rather carefree motifs that sometimes make a strikingly jarring contrast with the darker tinges that rise up unexpectedly. Green Mirage – what’s up with these titles, huh? – masterfully works a slow crescendo into characteristically murky call-and-response. The concert concludes with a deadly snowstorm, Kihlstedt’s insistent wail signaling the start of the avalanche that they’re going to ride as it devastates everything in its path. Whew! There isn’t a rollercoaster around that can compare with this. Look for it at the end of the year around the top of the Best Albums of 2009 list here.

December 21, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Satoko Fujii-Myra Melford – Under the Water

One of the most exciting piano albums of recent years, this Myra Melford/Satoko Fujii collaboration is an intense, often ferociously haunting yet sometimes extremely funny album. Fujii’s Libra Records released a limited-edition run of 500 copies, each with a one-of-a-kind hand-printed sleeve by klezmer accordionist Sachie Fujisawa. Of these, somebody saw fit to send one to l’il ole Lucid Culture [aside: (slap) Get your fingers off that thing! It’s a collector’s item! No, you’re not taking it home, you can listen to it right here]. A series of duo piano improvisations plus one solo piece by each performer, it’s a clinic in good listening (for anyone who plays improvised music, this is a must-own – memo to Libra: PRINT MORE!) and interplay, worth checking to see if it’s sold out yet or if there are (hopefully) more on the way. Each performer’s individual voice asserts itself here, Melford the slightly more traditionalist, Fujii (a Paul Bley acolyte) somewhat further outside. Both pianists use the entirety of the piano, rapping out percussion on the case and manipulating the inside strings for effects ranging from something approximating an autoharp, to a singing saw.

The first improvisation builds with sparse, staccato phrases from inside the piano, like a muted acoustic guitar. The second, The Migration of Fish is a high-energy, conversational feast of echo, permutation and call-and-response. Of the two solo pieces, Fujii’s Trace a River vividly evokes swirling currents, schools of fish and a bracingly cool fluidity. Melford’s Be Melting Snow, by contrast, is a murky, modal tar-pit boogie of sorts, practically gleeful in its unrelenting darkness. Utsubo (Japanese for moray eel) closes the cd on an exhilarating note. Fujii just wants to lurk in her lair and wait for prey, but Melford wants to play! And finally she cajoles Fujii out of her fugue (literally), and then they play tag, and YOU’RE IT! But Fujii isn’t done with lurking. She goes back between the rocks, way down with a pitch-black blast of sound, working both the keys and the inside of the piano and at the bottom of the abyss Melford adds the most perfect little handful of upper-register single-key accents, only accentuating the savagery of the ending. Wow!

May 21, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment