Natsuki Tamura

Japanese trumpeter and composer Natsuki Tamura is internationally recognized for his unique musical vocabulary blending extended techniques with jazz lyricism. This unpredictable virtuoso “has some of the stark, melancholy lyricism of Miles, the bristling rage of late ’60s Freddie Hubbard and a dollop of the extended techniques of Wadada Leo Smith and Lester Bowie,” according to Mark Keresman of Tamura’s seemingly limitless creativity led François Couture in All Music Guide to declare that “… we can officially say there are two Natsuki Tamuras: The one playing angular jazz-rock or ferocious free improv… and the one writing simple melodies of stunning beauty… How the two of them live in the same body and breathe through the same trumpet might remain a mystery…”

Throughout his career, Tamura has led bands with radically different approaches. For instance, First Meeting, his quartet featuring pianist Satoko Fujii, drummer Tatsuhisa Yamamoto, and electric guitarist Kelly Churko, released Cut the Rope, which Steve Greenlee of the Boston Globe described as “a noisy, free, impatient album, that ranks among Fujii and Tamura’s most accomplished.” Peter Marsh of the BBC had this to say of the 2003 Natsuki Tamura Quartet release Hada Hada: “Imagine Don Cherry woke up one morning, found he’d joined an avant goth-rock band and was booked to score an Italian horror movie. It might be an unlikely scenario, but it goes some way to describing this magnificent sprawl of a record.” Kevin Le Gendre in Jazzwise says the collaborative trio Junk Box, which Tamura co-founded in 2006 along with pianist Fujii and drummer John Hollenbeck, “is full of bluster and agitation that nonetheless retains moments of great melodic beauty, usually by way of concise, pertly pretty motifs that trumpeter Tamura plays in between bursts of withering roars that often dissolve into austere overtones.”

In contrast, Tamura has focused on the intersection of European folk music and sound abstraction with Gato Libre since 2003. The band’s poetic, quietly surreal performances have been praised for their “surprisingly soft and lyrical beauty that at times borders on flat-out impressionism,” by Rick Anderson in CD Hotlist. Dan McClenaghan in All About Jazz described their fourth CD, Shiro, as “intimate, something true to the simple beauty of the folk tradition…Tamura’s career has largely been about dissolving musical boundaries. With Gato Libre and Shiro, the trumpeter extends his reach even deeper into the prettiest, most accessible of his endeavors.” Originally a quartet that featured Tamura with Fujii on accordion, Kazuhiko Tsumura on guitar, and Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass, after the tragic passing of the group’s original guitarist and bassist Gato Libre morphed into its current configuration, a trio with Tamura, Fujii, and trombonist Yasuko Kaneko. Their 2017 album Neko (Libra) was described by Dave Sumner on Bird is the Worm as, “both a solemn tribute to those who are no longer with us and a clear statement of what’s to come from those who remain. But this is a strong and beautiful album in any context.”

Since 1997, Tamura has recorded six CDs with his ongoing duo with pianist (and wife) Satoko Fujii and won accolades from critics and audiences alike. “The wife-husband team from Japan was simply brilliant,” says Steve Feeney of the Portland Press Herald. “Though their work has a fair amount of compositional structure, it consistently reveals a wide-open and unpredictable nature that makes its performance a thrilling ride for the listener.” In addition to their intimate duo performances, Tamura collaborates on many of Fujii’s own projects, including her Min Yoh and ma-do quartets, and big bands in New York, Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe, and elsewhere.

Born on July 26, 1951 in Otsu, Shiga, Japan, Tamura was a regular member of saxophonist-composer Larry Ochs’ Sax and Drumming Core. As an unaccompanied soloist, he’s released three CDs, including Dragon Nat (2014). He and Fujii are also members of Kaze, a collaborative quartet with French musicians, trumpeter Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orins.