Gato Libre means "free cat" in several Latin languages, and it is a fitting name for this group of jazz improvisers based in Japan who can be resolutely free, yet disarmingly gentle.
And these are free cats with something equivalent to nine lives, as the band, which started as a quartet, morphed into two other formations, arriving at this trio of trumpet, accordion and trombone for this, their 7th album. Indeed, since Strange Village, Gato Libre's 2006 debut, which featured Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Kazuhiko Tsumura on guitar, Satoko Fujii on accordion, and Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass, the group has lost two members along the way: Koreyasu died in 2011 and Tsumura in 2015. The band kept on, each time reinventing itself instrumentally, which also inspired Tamura to compose new pieces for the repertoire — compact melodic and harmonic gems that serve as short compositional springboards for improvisation, a practice all the members of the band are excellent at.
Surprisingly, the band sound has not dramatically changed despite the personnel and timbral transformations, and the music still sounds, 11 years after the debut Strange Village, as soulful, playful and lyrical as ever.
In Neko, we get, yet again, very mellow, relaxing music, provided by Tamura's whispering trumpet, Fujii's mysterious harmonic and rhythmic accordion, and Yasuko Kaneko's silky trombone. The set of six pieces, each with an evocative name, like "Mii" ("Meow), "Hime" ("demoiselle") and "Tora" ("Tiger"), drifts seamlessly by and the time just seems to fly under the spell of this elegant and graceful trio.
By the way, Neko is the Japanese word for cat, which apparently also implies a half-human/half-cat creature. Again, it's fitting. These are very human cats playing their hearts out.
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