Natsuki Tamura / Satoko Fujii – Clouds
(Libra – 2002)
by John Barrett
This husband and wife have worked on several projects, from small groups to big bands, on these shores and in Japan. Here they are a duo, with free-form works inspired by the weather. “Cirrus” (the small wispy clouds found in the summer sky) begins with Natsuki Tamura singing into his trumpet as Satoko Fujii plucks the piano strings. Surprisingly, it sounds like traditional Japanese music – almost as a shakuhachi flute, backed by a shamisen. Eventually she strikes the keys, and Tamura answers with an odd, raspy bellow. (It sounds like he has an electronic amplifier.) Fujii strikes a repetitive theme, halfway between “Alley Cat” and the movie theme “Battle of Algiers”; Natsuki’s growl becomes a lazy yawn, and then a desperate squeal. The tune is ephemeral, slight, and constantly moving – like the cloud it represents.
A hyperbolic strum opens “Cumulonimbus”, after which Satoko scrapes the strings lengthwise. Tamura releases a quiet, ill-sounding yelp, as the scraping builds behind him. With a sharper tone his notes shout, then recede, while Fujii sounds like an industrial engine. It abruptly shifts to a classical lament: his notes pleading and pure, her chords terse and halting. Her part grows, turning sour and percussive; he turns quiet like Hubbard and then he disappears. Satoko’s solo is quite demanding, a simpler, more melodic take on Cecil Taylor. At the end she plinks the high strings as he breathes into his mouthpiece – truly the winds of change.
“Stratus” is a good cry – Natsuki moans with dignity, with some echo for warmth. Satoko plays with tender gravity; it never gets too noisy and the mood is memorable. If you need a first step to enjoy the duo, it would be this track.
“Cirrocumulus” is a definite charmer. Satoko begins with icy academic chords; Natsuki has a mute and works it slow – he sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Moments of dissonance break out, but the gentle, 1910s avant-garde feeling remains. “Altocumulus” conjures the image of a haunted house: the trumpet moans as the piano strings slither beneath a hypnotic theme. Fujii does an eerie, measured dance between strums of an Aeolian harp; the middle is abstract, where the two seem to talk to each other. Tamura’s raspberry near the end is pretty cute.
The closing “Stratocumulus” has a garrulous horn (Tamura’s best), relentless pounding strings, and imperious atmosphere. Quieter than their earlier efforts, this will appeal to the older school of avant-garde music, and to the widening circle of Satoko Fujii fans.