Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii Clouds Review

Released 2001.  

BBC Review

Impressionistic improvising from husband and wife piano & trumpet duo.

Peter Marsh 2002

Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii is a busy woman, with 14 CDs under her belt in the last 5 years ranging from her Orchestra project to trios and duos with the likes of Mark Dresser, Mats Gustaffson and Taysuya Yoshida from avant rock outfit Ruins. This is her second duet album with her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura (maybe it's the only time they get to see each other).

Their last CD (on the estimable Leo label), How Many ? was an intriguing release. Like Arve Henriksen, Tamura's vocalised trumpet often resembled a shakuhachi (wooden Japanese flute) or (more fancifully) the gentle soughing of wind through trees. Occasionally he would let loose a volley of fat, brassy tones or gurglings, while Fujii's piano wandered from delicate impressionistic colours through to knotty, dense clusters of notes or ominous low register rumblings.

Clouds offers more of the same, but with a less diffuse, more focussed aesthetic at work. Each of the tracks is named after a different cloud type. Appropriately, the opening "Cirrus" is a sparse, wispy essay with Tamura's bruised lyricism following the twists and turns of Fujii's piano, which travels from Paul Bley like restraint to pointillistic episodes of prepared piano percussives.

The 16 minute "Cumulonimbus" (the fat cotton wool ones, for the meteorogically challenged) pits grainy smears of trumpet over piano clunks, then opens out into a sumptuous dialogue between thoughtful, lovely chording and a full toned exursion from Tamura. Eventually Fujii builds minimal, pulsing figure which open into a detailed solo of quiet joy, subsiding into abstract inside-the-piano scrapes, joined by Tamura's slap tongued percussives and hisses. Like its subject matter, this is music that's forever on the move, morphing, dissolving and regrouping into new shapes.

Throughout the interplay is exquisite; Fujii and Tamura offer unsentimental beauty, space, silence and humour. "Stratus" offers the duo's most impressionistic playing, while "Altocumulus" is a restless series of abstract miniatures. Tamura alludes to players like Lester Bowie and Leo Smith, but sounds very little like either; he's a major (and pretty under-recorded) voice on the instrument. Fujii is a superb colourist and a strong, sensitive partner. Proof that improvised music can be emotionally engaging as well as ear tickling, Fujii and Tamura give us six clouds, all with a solid silver lining. Worth your time.

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