Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The 70 Years Young Natsuki Tamura

By Eyal Hareuveni

Japanese trumpeter-composer Natsuki Tamura recently celebrated his 70th birthday and more than fifty years of being a professional musician. But Tamura still plays and sounds as if he is discovering the wonders of making music, eager to experiment with new sounds and instruments, and makes sure that he is having tons of fun. His recent solo endeavors suggest how deep and daring his musical intelligence and imagination are.

Natsuki Tamura - Koki Solo (Libra, 2021) ****½

Now, after playing the trumpet for more than fifty years, Tamura thought that it would be fun to play the piano and the drums. He practiced in a studio near his home in Kobe, did some gigs at the Big Apple jazz club in Kobe where he played the piano, drums and trumpet, and then decided to make a solo album. The Covid-19 lockdown forced him to give up on the drums that could not fit into the small soundproof room of his home, so instead of drums he played and pounded on a large Chinese wok and other pots and pans from his kitchen. Luckily, he still had the grand piano of his partner, Satoko Fujii. Koki Solo was recorded at Tamura’s home in November 2020 during the pandemic lockdown.

Koki - after the Japanese term 古希 for one’s 70th birthday, is Tamura’s fourth solo, and reflects beautifully his sense of adventure, good and often eccentric sense of humor, as well as his lyricism, and rich imagination. Tamura did not care about his lack of technique as a pianist or percussionist. He trusted his instincts and intuition and simply wanted to express himself in new ways. He says that when he plays “I enjoy myself first. I don’t analyze what I do or what I think, I just pursue my feelings. I’m just like a child”.

Koki Solo radiates Tamura’s playfulness and innocent curiosity, with some moody and serious moments. He searches for surprising detours, interruptions and digressions that may introduce him to new, whimsical sonic experiences. The trumpet pieces - the urgent Sekirei'', the lyrical “Kawau”, the abstract “Sagi” or the fragile melody of “Chidori”, demonstrate his natural and virtuous techniques, alternating with themes that sound if were made for some hyperactive matadors, subdued serenity, and hissing noises.

Tamura knows how to cook impressive percussive pieces. “Karugamo”, with its Brazilian-like berimbau playing that brings to mind the like-minded adventurous musical personality of the late Naná Vasconcelos, and “Kamone”, with its Akira-Sakata-like gibberish speech, fully exhaust the potential of kitchen implements with a child-like passion to discover new games. The piano pieces like “Bora” and “Isoshigi” are minimalist but clear and thoughtful, using simple, single-note lines, sustain pedal and wordless singing to create drama, color and texture.

The following solo albums were released on Tamura’s Bandcamp page and built on Koki Solo's engaging experiments:

Natsuki Tamura - Natsuki Tamura plays Trumpet (Self Produced, 2021) ****

The cover photo suggests that Tamura is not going to play the trumpet in any conventional or familiar manner, and, indeed, this album is a perfect showcase for all the things you didn't know that one can do with this brass instrument unless you are equipped with the right extended breathing techniques and a wild and inventive imagination. Tamura sketched a brief, layered drone on “Kumochi”; creates an intense storm that collides a high, cartoonish hissing voice and a raw, muscular one on “Fukiai”; builds offers a series of sparse but playful games with industrial-like sounds on “Kano”; explores noisy, buzzing and ethereal sounds on “Ninomiya” and on the talkative “Kusunoki”; and concludes with the amusing, singing breaths of “Wakihama”. All these pieces tell that Tamura has enough tricks in his bag for quite a few solo trumpet albums.

Natsuki Tamura - Natsuki Tamura plays Piano (Self Produced, 2021) ***½

Tamura is fully aware of his limited capabilities as a pianist, but his profound musicality compensates for whatever advanced techniques he lacks. He focuses here on minimalist pieces that contrast compositional strategies. In the opening, “Dissolve” he focuses on the resonating sounds created by pounding the piano and how out of these firm, repetitive vibrations a fragile melody blossoms. The following “Frozen” solidifies the minimalist atmosphere but with a child-like melody that has an unsettling, lyrical vein. “Division” collides two, nervous melodic lines. “Coagulation” patiently evolves its brief and delicate themes out of repetitive gestures. The last piece “Diffusion” slows down even further into one hand repeating a percussive idea, letting it resonate again and again until it all gravitates into a simple melody.

Natsuki Tamura - NABE KAMA (Self Produced, 2021) ***½

Tamura concluded his liner notes to Koki Solo with a promise that he is planning a live gig where he is going to play only pots and pans, like the ones captured on the cover of NABE KAMA (the Japanese iron pot for cooking rice). The five pieces highlight Tamura’s sense of adventure and eccentric humor, his refined and nuanced ideas about building and releasing tension and suggesting dramatic textures, and the many ways he can make quite a lot of noise with so few utensils. The opening piece “Paku Paku” (referring to his beloved subject, food, the onomatopoeia term for eating quickly. ぱくぱく) and “Jump” offer delicate and colorful dramas. “Mure” and “Kakoh” explore joyful and cacophonic texture. “Kanbora”, like “Karugamo” from Koki Solo, references the Brazilian, berimbau-playing. Tamura cooked a tasty dish here.

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