The music of Gato Libre feels ancient like its elixirs have been hidden away in a crypt some place in a sacred Buddhist shrine. The sonic passages of their music on their latest release, Kuro are scintillating as the members embrace traditional esthetics and trundle along at a comfortable rate. The band which features pianist Satoko Fujii playing the accordion, her husband Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Kazuhiko Tsumura on guitar, and Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass, have created an album with ebullient tones and melodic rigs that tell a story which transports the listener from scenes of blissful happiness, to challenged by conflict, enwrapped in tragic events, and coping with change. The album bears a resemblance to performing art pieces which evoke emotions from their audiences.
Though sections of the album are fraught with tension and conflict, most of the pieces are imbued with happiness and planked in an uplifting mood. The gently raveling lines of the exotically tinged guitar and accordion are fluted gracefully along "Sunny Spot." There is an Indian quality in the tones which gives the tune a ritual modulation and ethnic coloring as the flutters of the trumpet are woven into the patterns. The melancholic pitch of the trumpet on "Patrol" is tweaked by springy guitar pizzicatos and the soft lathering keys of the accordion. The esoteric eruptions from the accordion and the frightful tone of the bass, guitar and trumpet for "Battle" are foreboding, while the cheery strut of the instrumentation along "Reconcile" shows a brighter day will follow. There is a bubbly Hawaiian accent in the guitar lines that make the melody feel light and fluffy.
Italian influences radiate from the accordion keys in "Together," a tune which showcases a soft bellowing bass in the undertow performed by Norikatsu Koreyasu and romantically flavored guitar motifs from Kazuhiko Tsumura. The melody is tuneful and marvelously tailored through the repetitions. The Spanish flare of the trumpet rolls of "Beyond" feel like they are heralding a bull-fight as the guitar phrases build the atmosphere’s intensity. The notes slough off to a minimalist phrasing and twist into esoteric contortions. The final track, "Kuro" is a tenderly stroking melody with bucolic textures. "Kuro" means "black" in Japanese, and is the name of the cat that is, according to Tamura, "a boss of stray cats." The melody feels heartfelt and loving with a tinge of sadness in the trumpet’s pitch.
Kuro is a wonderful performance art piece, if Gato Libre ever chose to take the album in this direction. Gato Libre’s previous CD, 2006’s Nomad was a critically acclaimed album, and that is no doubt Kuro’s fate as well. Though the members of Gato Libre continue to play in other groups and each of them have been bandleaders of their own troupes, there is something very refined and special that happens when the members of Gato Libre come together. Kuro is a testament to that beauty.