Gato Libre

(No Man's Land)

If I consider only those artists that up to that point I have never heard of, then it's quite easy to place those unsolicited CDs that I find in my mailbox in two broad categories: rubbish, and things of (a certain) quality, with the former category having the greater number of items by far. Deciding under which category to put any item is something that most of the time doesn't really require a lot of effort, and sometimes listening to the whole oeuvre is not even necessary. But, once in a while, here comes an album that is not too easily categorized, thanks to its ambiguities and chiaroscuri.

As it's the case with this CD by a Japanese quartet called Gato Libre. From the (very tiny) picture appearing inside the CD case I imagined the four members of the group (Natsuki Tamura, trumpet; Kazuhiko Tsumura, acoustic guitar; Satoko Fujii, accordion; Norikatsu Koreyasu, double bass) to be quite young, but their résumé told me a very different story: they are all musicians in their late forties who possess a long CV; the accordion player is a highly esteemed pianist with many CDs under her name, while the trumpet player is the leader, and the composer of all the tracks that are featured here.

So they can play. But what about the music? Here comes the fun. As per its title (Nomad), the CD presents a series of compositions (that were inspired by? that are supposed to remind us of?) with titles such as In Krakow, In November or In Venice, In October. It would be easy being ironic, and saying that finding a "Krakowian air" in the track dedicated to Krakow while having never been there - or having listened to any music from that town - brings us to the "movie soundtrack" factor, to the (definitely modern) possibility we have to be able (to believe) to remember things that we have never really known.

The CD possesses a certain delicate charm, even if it's really too long. The trumpet has a round sound, never spiky; the guitar is clear, and clearly recorded; the accordion is quite convincing; the double bass has a nice sound, and plays some "daring" harmony parts. The first track can work as an illustration of the whole: a melancholic theme played by the trumpet (let's not forget we are in Krakow in November), then the accordion, then a trumpet solo with a nice backing by double bass and guitar, then an accordion solo (a bit on the tearjerker side), then a "bluesy" guitar; closing theme, end.

In my opinion those melancholic themes are what this group does best: In Paris, In February; In Berlin, In September; In Venice, In October. Very beautiful double bass solos, with and without arco. On the average, I found the more vivacious themes - In Glasgow, In May and In Barcelona, In June - to be less convincing, though we have a nice In Madrid, In August, with its "heroic" trumpet.

I thought a lot about Nomad. (Four Japanese musicians playing European folklore... maybe here we have a bizarre mirror image of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra?) Sure, it's not too difficult here to see a certain naiveté; but I don't think it's quite right that some projects that are no less banal, even though this is a bit difficult to see for the naked eye, are much-lauded (first examples that come to the mind? The "trumpet & beats" by Nils Potter Molvaer on Solid Ether and the "funky/B movie" aesthetic of Uri Caine's Bedrock).

I really can't say who the potential audience for this album could be today. In times long-gone I would have thought of those who, while still in love with everyday tonality, didn't fear the lack of drums or the double bass solos. "Intelligent easy listening", if you like. But what's "easy listening" today? (I have this question in my mind since the day a friend of mine gave me a lift and I gently suggested to him that the day had come for him to buy a new car. I was greatly embarrassed to know that, while deep in traffic, those squeaks I was listening to came from the new CD by...)

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2006 | Nov. 17, 2006