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Ko Ko Ko Ke
NatSat MTCJ-3012

Paradoxically trumpeter Natsuki Tamara appears to function best when he’s on his own.

This may seem like a strange statement to describe the work of someone who spends most of his time as committed soloist in the combos and big bands of his wife, pianist Satoko Fujii. Yet the demands of maintaining his improv equilibrium, especially when up against the sledgehammer rhythms of the rockers who recently have populated Fujii’s quartet seem wearying. A recent bombastic fusion session under his own name was even more unworthy of a brassman capable of lyrical fancies as well as technical aplomb.

KO KO KO KE is another matter entirely. Alone, except for his trusty trumpet and his own vocalizing, New York-based Tamara shrewdly creates a sound world that while completely his own also hints at the mythological and musical folklore of Asian and European cultures. It’s his most impressive work since WHITE & BLUE (Buzz), a set of brass- percussion duos with either Jim Black or Aaron Alexander.

Coming from a completely different sector, is BEAST, a more-or-less solo trombone showcase by St. Petersburg, Fla.-based David Manson. It’s more-or-less solo because former Curlew guitarist Davey Williams guests on one track, while others — mostly through composed — add computer programs and pre-recorded sounds. Manson, an academic who has recorded impressively with tenor saxophonist Sam Rivers, proves here that he can have fun while exhibiting his virtuosity.

Considering the length and focus of some of the tunes on KO KO KO KE, fun seems to be peripheral to Tamura’s conception. Imagine him, instead, as a melancholy, traveling minstrel expressing his emotions concertizing on lonely street. Our romantic idea of the itinerant singer/guitarist is probably the only reason this image may seem bizarre. Yet with nothing but his voice and trumpet, Tamura comes up with a persona no less self-contained than that of early, wandering bluesmen like Robert Johnson or Charlie Patton.

Like those country bluesmen, the trumpeter’s 14 improvisations vary little in tone or tempo. Unlike the blues bards’ command of the vernacular however, most of the titles and all of the songs are in Tamura’s self-invented, imaginary language.

Only on “Syste”, the penultimate piece, named for the New York studio in which this CD was recorded, does he turn lively enough to produce a rhythmic melody awash in purring chromatic runs, fluttering climaxes and a repeated percussive ending. The effect is like hearing “Red Hot”, the one jivey number bluesman Johnson included in his recorded repertoire of haunted, introspective plaints. You can’t be too sure about how introspective Tamura is though, since few clues are available from an imaginary language.

Tracks like “Taiko”, which is the name for a small Japanese drum and “Peng” seem all onomatopoeia, depending more on sound than meaning. Buzzed lip action and growls plus speedy falsetto-vocal trills and lower-pitched whispers suggest cymbal as well as drum top timbres. Grace notes and airy chromatic buffers from the horn surround repeated vocalizing of the sound named in the title of the later. Then there’s the CD’s title track, which featured soft trumpet glissandi mixing it up with crow-like cawing repetition of “ko ko ko ke”. Soon enough Tamura’s masticating different versions of the phrase.

His mumbling singing and melancholy trumpet line may suggest a saddened customer stumbling his way through a karaoke weeper on “Guta”, while “Honamesa” with its drawn-out syllables could be a Japanese version of a folksy sing-along. Finally there’s “Pasurija” where double-tongued staccato scoops and brassy trills follow a wavering vocal with a cantorial cast and precede rhyming nonsense syllables.

Taken together the unique presentation makes the CD memorable. But it’s a one-off that will demand reimagining should Tamura attempt another solo disc.

Pretty listener-friendly for a BEAST, Manson’s trombone tour de force doesn’t have that problem, since he takes on several roles throughout the five tracks that make up the disc.

Least auspicious, are the second to last and final track. Manson’s own “Freund”, which links his playing to canonic patches running real time AudioMulch, depends on the clone ‘bones regenerating through a computer phrases he has already played. Unfortunately once this basic premise is understood, the performance doesn’t move much past that.

“RE: DAVID”, written for him by Gustavo Matamoros, which asks the trombonist to instantly respond to whatever strange voices or noises come from a pre-recorded tape, is a little too gimmicky. By the end, the slurs, trills, snorts and wah-wah explosions he produces to meet the crackles, whistles and single toots from the tape finally morph into irregular dance-style music.

More enjoyable are “All Clear Now”, where distorted, quivering slurs and oscillated echoes from Williams’ effects pedal are just one part of the guitarist’s output. The rest is minimalist fretboard smears and scrapes. Playing a Tibetan radung, Manson’s response involves renal snorts and shamanistic echoes.

The more-than-17-minute “Mambo Vinko”, by Javier Alvarez, based on a road trip with a mambo-loving truck driver, posits live trombone comments on pre-recorded noises replicating a truck motor running, horns honking, Spanish dialogue and Latin music taped from the radio. Eventually Manson’s andante cadenzas pitchslide past polyrhythmic glissandi to a climax that challenge the Hispanic actualities with clave intonation.

Related to Japanese noise music, Eric Lyon’s almost 15½-minute “Confessions of a Virtue Addict” has the boneman using double-tonguing, sweeping whinnies and hocketing to maintain his place in the piece. Echoes of drum machines, smooth 1,000+1 Strings-like backing, a sport arena organ, obtuse cracked electronics and ricochets of a ray gun are the composer’s contribution. Before Manson concludes his part with a velvety ascent up the scale, he has quoted a snatch of “Whistle While You Work” to burlesque his strategy during the sonic miasma.

Brass players of all stripes — and probably most civilians — should be interested in both of these CDs. They stretch the definition of solo playing.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Ko: 1. Mekinaka 2. Peng 3. Nettara Mottara 4. Tahi Tahi 5. Shamisen 6. Kogena Agena 7. KoKoKoKe 8. Honamesa 9. Pasurija 10. Taiko 11. Guta 12. Epura 13. Syste 14. Samidare

Personnel: Ko: Natsuki Tamara (trumpet)

Track Listing: Beast: 1. Mambo Vinko 2. All Clear Now* 3. Confessions of a Virtue Addict 4. RE: David 5. Freund

Personnel: Beast: David Manson (trombone, radung*, electronics); Davey Williams* (guitar)