In the Tank
Libra Records Libra 104-11

Analyzed like the arrangement of officials in the podium at a Beijing May Day parade, the way the personnel is displayed on IN THE TANK probably means that it’s more Natsuki Tamura’s session than one headed by Satoko Fujii. Usually in the past, his CDs have included broad, near-atonal intervals and harsh, electronic instruments, while hers, although sometimes featuring rock-styled musicians usually encompass classic jazz forms like the piano trio and the big band.

That doesn’t mean that pianist Fujii contributes any less to this aggressive free improv than Tamura, her trumpet-playing husband. Yet when you mix in the contributions of guitarist Takayuki Kato member of the Free Jazz Shibusashirazu Orchestra, who participated in a later Fujii quartet session where she first recorded on synthesizer, and New York guitarist and soprano saxophonist Elliott Sharp, whose eccentric outpourings have ranged from noise-rock to futuristic classical themes, her playing is the most distanced from electronics.

Really one 68-minute improv, the CD is divided into four tracks that should be listened to as a whole. Mixing the trumpeter’s bravura expressiveness and the techniques of the two guitarists who can replicate bass and percussion timbres, this is no laid-back jam session. It does have a particular shape however, with introductory passages and an elongated coda, both linked with the individualist playing of Tamura. Instructively, with all the dissonant, near-ghostly tones exhibited, IN THE TANK also implies traditional Japanese textures of koto-like plinks and finger-cymbal or rei pings at several junctures.

Still, as the exposition develops, distorted sine-wave pulsations and steady slide-guitar abrasions quickly subsume these delicate textures. Added to this is slashed flutter-tonguing and heaving echoes from Tamura’s horn, plus a low-pitched repetitive counter line from the pianist.

Developing this first-time meeting of equals, Sharp’s serpentine sax vibrations and the trumpeter’s tremolo wah wahs and bright, silvery pulse accelerate contrapuntally as percussion clusters – from Fujii or Kato? – rattle in the background, until a climax of layered guitar harmonics loudly crescendo in what sounds like multiple ring modulator tones. Soon a spray of curved licks and watery bird-like snaps are heard from the guitars implying an underwater fowl pool game has been captured in the studio. The pianist counters with measured single notes and Tamura spews heightened grace notes and flourishes, accelerating so that the sound melds with rolling, high frequency chords from Fujii. Thick fuzz-tone reverb are then heard from one guitarist and sharp resonating bottleneck licks from the other, with rasgueado strums ushering in the next variations.

Here, growling wave forms and dynamic contrasting runs from trumpet flow polyphonically only to stop short by the sound of breaking glass that bonds forced glottal timbres with steady rhythmic cadences from the piano – and chromatic thumps and movement from the guitars. Muddying the interface, Fujii explores the piano’s insides as Tamura spits out coarse braying textures. Another part of the improvisation’s development to the concluding section features one guitarist – probably Kato – pummeling his bass strings so rhythmically that this could be a solo by bass guitarist Jaco Pastorius.

Longer than the other tracks, the piece’s concluding variations are set up with bell-ringing guitar strums and Sharp’s vibrating soprano saxophone split tones that bring out boppy trumpeting from Tamura, an additional thumping bass part and polyphonic layering that causes Fujii to start pummeling high-frequency vibrations from the keys. Noh theatre-like growls and manipulated electronic hums reintroduce Orientalism as do pitches reminiscent of taku bells sounding. Taking an abrupt left turn, Fujii’s cadences finally turn almost impressionistically 19th century classical as the others fixate on atonality. The finale finds the brassman purring low-frequency adagio accents as the pianist comps behind him – as if these two are in one space, and the highly amplified guitars are in another. Coda is a double tongued-trumpet drone that dissolves into single whispering notes.

Created in Tokyo in 2001, this impressive, ever-shifting performance suggests a repeat should soon be in order.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Walking Squid 2. Flying Jellyfish 3. Sinking Shrimp 4. Crawling Crab

Personnel: Natsuki Tamura (trumpet); Elliot Sharp (soprano saxophone and guitar); Takayuki Kato (guitar); Satoko Fujii (piano)