The Japanese trio Gato Libre – trumpeter-composer Natsuki Tamura, accordionist and partner Satoko fujii and trombonist Yasuko Kaneko has developed a deceptive aesthetics. Tamura’s melodies for Gato Libre sound effortless and organic, melodic and simple, and offer a meditative atmosphere that blends improvisation and composition into an integrated whole. But this relaxed and calm atmosphere contains some surprising tricks and can shift instantly into brief, outworldly storms, as avid listeners may recognize from other wilder and energetic outfits of Tamura as his quartet or the Japanese-French collective quartet Kaze.
«Koneko» is already the eight album of Gato Libre and intensifies the sound and atmosphere of Gato Libre since its inception in 2003 (including the cover painting of cats), despite the changes in its personnel and instrumentation. This band began working as a quartet in 2003 with double bass player Norikatsu Koreyasu and guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura, both passed away in 2011 and 2015. Kaneko joined Gato Libre in 2013 for the recording of «DuDu» (Libra, 2014), the last one of Gato Libre as a quartet and with Tsumura. «Koneko» was recorded at UEN studio, Tokyo, in December 2019.
The eight pieces demonstrate how subtle, spontaneous changes can shift the course of these peaceful melodies. The opening piece «Kaineko» has a melancholic, poignant aroma of Astor Piazolla’s nuevo-tangos, emphasized by the punctuating chords of Fujii’s accordion, but its serene atmosphere boils for a few turbulent seconds as Tamura and Kaneko engage in a heated duel. On the following «Noraneko» Tamura, Fujii and Kaneko articulate the simple melody alone and in parallel, sustained lines, and only later duets of Tamura and Kaneko, Kaneko and Fujii and Tamura and Fujii enrich these solitary, drone-like tones. The dark yet romantic accordion drome of Fujii on «Yameneko» contrasts the bright, soaring solos of trumpet and Kaneko. The title-piece alternates between expanding the former, intimate romantic vein and exploring a freer, tense interplay, as Tamura and Kanelo keep subverting the emotional accordion tones of Fujii.
Kaneko introduces «Ieneko» and continues to improvise and talk through her mouthpiece in a sparse and totally free manner while Tamura and Fujii articulate an engaging melody. «Bakeneko» stresses the wilder sides of Gato Libre, as Tamura, Fujii and Kaneko crisscrossing abruptly each other’s lines with sharp, aggressive gestures that trample any attempt to form a coherent interplay. «Doraneko» returns to an introspective, delicate texture, delivered with passion and elegance by the trio until Kaneko injects some extended breathing techniques. The last «Kanbanneko» concludes with an emphatic, collective exploration of a passionate, melancholic melody.
Gato Libre may like it simple and tender but know how to propel the delicate and intimate melodies with provocative insights.
Natsuki Tamura (tp), Yasuki Kaneko (tb). Satoko Fujii (acc)