Natsuki Tamura & Satoko Fujii – Aloft (ENG review)

Libra Records – Street date July, 12th 2024
Natsuki Tamura & Satoko Fujii

This is the kind of album that ECM could have released in the 80s, back when the label still knew how to take artistic risks to bring out exceptional talent. This is a no-compromise, raw jazz album featuring a duo composed of pianist and composer Satoko Fujii, described by Giovanni Russonello of the New York Times as “an improviser of fierce intensity and generous restraint,” and her trumpet-playing partner Natsuki Tamura. Both have an impressive track record as a duo. On their ninth duo album, “Aloft,” they once again find new things to say. The level of creativity is as high as on their previous eight albums, with the assurance and maturity that come from nearly 30 years of collaboration. As Fujii says, “I’m amazed that we still have so much to create together!” Tamura is equally enthusiastic about their partnership. “We both continue to explore deeper expressions and new sounds,” he says. “After years of performing together, I feel absolutely secure in a duo with her.”

Their music is as much improvised as it is written, getting straight to the point. Why bother with a double bass or drums when the goal is to get closer to nature, as suggested by the album cover? Known for their duo performances that border on telepathy, Fujii and Tamura entered the studio with no plan other than to rely on their trust and experience by improvising. They did not discuss the music beforehand. “We just decided to play something,” says Fujii. “Natsuki listens to me very carefully and respects my playing immensely, but he has a very different sensitivity and mode of expression.” Tamura adds, “We listen to each other attentively, but at the same time, we both understand that contrast and surprise are just as important.”

I sat quietly, listening and re-listening to this inspired and inspiring album. Admittedly, it won’t suit everyone. If you have a background in classical music and jazz, you will easily enter this album, which evidently requires more than a minimum of cultural knowledge. Some sounds here and there bring us closer to nature, then the trumpet becomes animal-like, the piano adds to the drama. Is nature fierce? Not solely, not exclusively. Nature is like humanity, made of highs and lows, sunshine and rain, sometimes joyful, sometimes devastating. In 1998, Tamura released his first solo trumpet album, “A Song for Jyaki” (Leo Lab). He followed up in 2003 with “KoKoKoKe” (Polystar/ NatSat) and in 2021, he celebrated his 70th birthday with “Koki Solo” (Libra), which Karl Ackermann of All About Jazz described as “an eccentric delight in a time of uncertainty.”

Here we clearly have a work of art, non-conformist, provocative, and so what? Let’s wake up, admire, be outraged, and fully embrace our share of informal, timeless poetry. This album can be described as “Essential,” like earth, fire, and water, essential to our human and animal lives, carried by the wind of the souls of artists who shine in their creativity.

Thierry De Clemensat
USA correspondent – Paris-Move and ABS magazine
Editor in chief Bayou Blue Radio, Bayou Blue News

PARIS-MOVE, June 27th 2024

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Natsuki Tamura’s Website

Satoko Fujii’s Website