Born: July 26, 1951 Primary Instrument: Trumpet
Japanese trumpeter and composer NATSUKI TAMURA splits his active performing career between his homeland and the United States. Internationally recognized for his ability to blend a unique vocabulary of extended techniques with touching jazz lyricism, Tamura has been compared to players as diverse as Lester Bowie, Miles Davis, and Freddie Hubbard, with “chops that would make Louis Armstrong jealous.” ? Improvijazzation Nation.
His appearances at festivals worldwide include a solo trumpet performance at the 1998 Texaco New York Jazz Festival, as well as appearances at Newport Jazz in Madarao, Festival of New Trumpet Music at Tonic in NYC, San Francisco Jazz Festival, Frick Fine Arts Auditorium, Japan Jazz Aid, Yamaha Jazz Festival, Vancouver Jazz Festival, Yokohama Jazz, Yatsugatake Jazz, Kobe Jazz, Hibiya Jazz, Moers Festival in Germany, and the first annual San Francisco Alternative Music Festival. Club dates include the Knitting Factory, the Stone and Tonic in New York; the Carnival Jazz Club, Babel 2nd, and Pit Inn in Tokyo; Bimhuis in Amsterdam, the Painted Bride in Philadelphia; and Airgin in Yokohama, among many others. In addition to performing with his own group, Tamura has performed with Satoko Fujii, Orkestrova, Jimmy Weinstein, Misha Mengelberg, and Angelo Verploegen, Larry Ochs, Chris Brown, and Ninh among many others. In addition, Tamura has appeared on numerous Japanese recordings. He has recorded seven discs with the New Herd Orchestra, and has also been featured on recordings by the Juggernaut Big Band, and the Music Magic Orchestra.
Born on July 26, 1951 in Otsu, Shiga, Japan, Tamura first picked up the trumpet while performing in his junior high brass band. He began his professional music career after he graduated from high school, playing in numerous bands including the World Sharps Orchestra, Consolation, Skyliners Orchestra, New Herd Orchestra, Music Magic Orchestra, and the Satoko Fujii Ensemble, as well as in his own ensemble. He was the trumpeter for numerous national television shows in Japan from 1973?1982, including The Best Ten, Music Fair, Kirameku Rhythm and many others.
In 1986, he came to the United States to study at Berklee College of Music. He then returned to his native Japan to perform and teach at the Yamaha Popular Music School and at private trumpet studios in Tokyo and Saitama, before coming back to the US to study at the New England Conservatory of Music.
In 1990 Tamura led his quartet on Tobifudo, and in 1997 he released the duo album How Many?, with pianist Satoko Fujii. His stunning solo trumpet release A Song for Jyaki (Leo Records, 1998) earned a Writers Choice 1998 in Coda magazine, and Rick Marx in Jazz Central Station hailed it as “A potent mix of passion and calculated madness, with Tamura’s plaintive horn cry somewhere between a blast and a bleat. Tamura initiates a solo statement that is in the great tradition of original musical storytellers...his music magically captures the sounds of nature.” Andy Bartlett wrote in Coda: “A fabulous set of hiccuping leaps, drones and post-bop trumpet hi-jinx. Tamura goes from growling lows to fluid, free solo runs and echoes not only Don Cherry's slurring anti-virtuosic chops but also Kenny Wheeler's piercing highwire fullness.”
White & Blue, a duo album recorded in 2000 with drummers Jim Black and Aaron Alexander, made critics’ Top 10 lists in Coda magazine and was lauded by S.D. Feeney in Face Magazine as “expressive journeys across sonic landscapes not found on most maps. “What is most striking is not simply the high level of interaction,” wrote Stuart Broomer in Coda, but the sense of sound as ceremony.”
Tamura’s collaborations with his wife, pianist Satoko Fujii, reveal an intense musical empathy between the two, and have garnered wide popular and critical acclaim. Jim Santella in All About Jazz described their synergy well in his glowing review of the couple’s recent duo disc, In Krakow, In November (Not Two, 2006): “… the creative couple forcefully demonstrates what can happen when you let your musical ideas run free… Similarly, Tamura’s mournful trumpet can fly high or low in search of his next surprise. Oftentimes, they both issue plaintive moans that sing like angels on high.” Andy Hamilton of The Wire observed, “… melody and introspection are the key to In Krakow. The title- track offers a haunting East European vision, with Tamura's playing showing a melancholy power reminiscent of Miles Davis's Lift To The Scaffold.” Of their first duo recording How Many? (Leo Records, 1997), Chris Kelsey of Cadence magazine wrote: Together Tamura and Fujii construct perfect little structures; their collaboration is balanced, astute, and very musical. A lovely album. Clouds, their 2002 duo release, was greeted with similar enthusiasm by Peter Marsh of the BBC: “… the interplay is exquisite; Fujii and Tamura offer unsentimental beauty, space, silence and humour… 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” while Jason Bivins in Cadence opined: “…a half-dozen beautiful compositions as protean and rarefied as their names imply. This is extremely beautiful music, defined by its intelligence and risk.” Tamura is also featured on all of the CDs with Satoko Fujii’s various orchestras (NY, Tokyo, Nagoya and Kobe) and has contributed original compositions and arrangements to each of their 11 critically celebrated albums ? South Wind, JO, Double Take, The Future of the Past, Before the Dawn, Blueprint, Nagoyanian, and the simultaneous 2006 release of Fujii’s four critically acclaimed big-band projects on four different labels: Undulation: Satoko Fujii Orchestra NY; Live!!: Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo (CD + DVD), Maru: Satoko Fujii Orchestra Nagoya; and Kobe Yee!!: Satoko Fujii Orchestra Kobe. In addition, he’s featured on Fujii’s Quartet CD Zephyros, and Orkestra Rova’s An Alligator in your Wallet.
Natsuki Tamura has been lauded consistently for his incredible versatility. Of his work on the 2003 release Minerva featuring Fujii and Tamura's Japanese Quartet. Natsuki Tamura's trumpet 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 W. Leo Smith and Lester Bowie. (Mark Keresman, JazzReview.com.) Peter Marsh of the BBC had this to say of the 2003 Natsuki Tamura Quartet release Hada Hada: …a deeply compelling listen. 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. Tamura’s second solo album, Ko Ko Ko Ke earned a Top CD of 2004 from Fran? ois Couture and was praised by him in All Music Guide as being “A highly serene, peaceful, intimate journey through the art of melody and play” while Tamura’s 2004 Quartet release Exit was deemed “…a brilliantly executed set with a neon glow.” (Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz.)
Tamura toured extensively in 2005 and released two critically acclaimed discs as a leader, In the Tank, and Strange Village. The latter was the debut recording of his acoustic quartet, Gato Libre, which features Satoko Fujii on accordion, Tsumura Kazuhiko on guitar, and Koreyasu Norikatsu on bass, and for which Tamura penned all the compositions. Named one of the Top 10 CDs of 2005 by Randy McElligott of CHUO FM 89, it was described as “… a record of surprisingly soft and lyrical beauty that at times borders on flat-out impressionism,” by Rick Anderson in CD Hotlist for Libraries. Dennis Gonzalez of One Final Note observed, “Every so often a record comes along from an established artist that makes one reassess his or her accomplishments. The initial document from the Japanese quartet Gato Libre is such a release… Indeed, Strange Village is proof that Tamura and Fujii and truly multi- dimensional artists.” In the Tank, listed as one of the Top 10 CDs for 2005 by All About Jazz, is in an altogether different vein. Hailed as a “triumphant electro-acoustic adventure” by Daniel Spicer of Jazzwise, it features two electric guitarists, Takayuki Kato and Elliott Sharp, (who also doubles on soprano sax), as well as Satoko Fujii on acoustic piano. “Think AMM meets blues guitar meets 1970s Miles Davis and you get some idea of the disc’s flavor: a slow-moving panorama for the ears, where sounds are systematically added, repeated, refined, and replaced in turn,” wrote Nate Dorward in Cadence. Tamura also appeared on two well-received releases with his wife Satoko Fujii in 2005: Live in Japan, 2004 and Angelona. This busy year also yielded Live at Moers with Satoh Masahiko and SAIFA.
In 2006 Tamura released his second CD with Gato Libre, the critically acclaimed Nomad, which once again delved into European folk music, this time even more intensely as each of his compositions explores the atmosphere of a different European city during a certain month of the year. Ray Comiskey of The Irish Times wrote of this disc: “Natsuki Tamura, the extraordinary Japanese trumpeter, gives a very personal response to European folk musics… Though there are elements of flamenco, French musette, Celtic dance and Middle European shadings in these spare “evocations” of sundry cities, this is Tamura’s music; his huge, mournful sound and sparse phrasing are consistently expressive… the album is full of striking playing.” His playing on this CD was described as “…lyrically beautiful and commanding” by Andy Hamilton in The Wire and Philip Johnson of The Independent offered this eloquent praise: “Natsuki Tamura, who composes all the material, is the real star, his ghostly, poetic sound filling the air with great beauty.”
Meanwhile, Tamura was heralded for his work on the 2006 release of the Satoko Fujii Four, When We Were There. Fragment, a disc introducing their Junk Box trio with Tamura, Fujii, and percussionist/composer John Hollenbeck also appeared in 2006. As Daniel Spicer wrote of Fragment in JazzWise, “Tamura spits out gloriously rude Lester- Bowie-like snorts, lows like a herd of robotic cattle or makes like a wheezy howler monkey… Cool and clever.” Glenn Astarita of All About Jazz declared it “Required listening.”
Tamura was also busy performing in 2006. He toured Japan with Gato Libre, and also appeared at Toyko’s Pit Inn as part of The 22nd Tokyo Summer Festival 2006 with two of Fujii’s big bands, Orchestra Tokyo and Orchestra Nagoya. The Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York, of which he is a member, played at The Stone in New York City in June 2006, a show which was chosen as one of the “Best Performances of 2006” by All About Jazz New York. He was also heard at FIMAV (Victoriaville Festival, Canada) with the Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble, at Lisbon's 2006 Jazz em Agosto with Electric Ascension as part of the Satoko Fujii Four, (with Mark Dresser and Jim Black) and throughout Europe as a member of the Satoko Fujii Quartet.
As a composer, Tamura explores a wide range of material from works based on traditional Japanese and European elements to his own distinctive pieces that incorporate contrasting episodes into surreal yet carefully balanced structures. Natsuki Tamura’s creative impulses seem limitless, which led Fran?ois 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 (see Hada Hada or In the Tank) and the one writing simple melodies of stunning beauty (witness Ko Ko Ko Ke and Strange Village). How the two of them live in the same body and breathe through the same trumpet might remain a mystery…”