Natsuko Sugao Group – “Sakura”


Natsuko Sugao - "Sakura"On Sakura, Barcelona-based trumpeter Natsuko Sugao fuses a straight-ahead bop sound with the music of her native Japan.  And fuses is the operative word here, as this isn’t really a blend of influences or an amalgamation of disparate sounds… this is a side-by-side presentation of these musics, and the truly fascinating part is how well they transition from one to the next and then back again, even with moments when one bleeds slightly into the other, creating momentary bits of brilliant and unexpected fusion.

Ultimately though, a track like “Libelula,” with its traditional Japanese vocals accompanied by brush work and some sporadic piano is followed by the hard bop warmth of “Joc.”

“Mar de Invierno” hints at transitioning within the span of one song, as an upbeat bop hits the finish line with a flute section that hints at Eastern influence, and ends with a crash of cymbals.  The intro to subsequent track “Sakura” pairs trumpet with mbira, presenting a touch of the cross-continental soulfulness of the old Codona Trio recordings (Cherry, Walcott & Vasconcelos), which, in turn, leads into an alluring bop section that’s full of energy, yet hangs on every note and exudes an appealing moodiness, as well.  This is followed by more of the same on “Natsumatsuri,” a song that swings with a joyful cadence and tuneful solos.

“Tsukishima” breaks from the mold just a bit with a short burst of free improvisation.  And when followed by the fragile beauty of the gentle piano introduction to “La Isla,” the fluid transformation is momentarily staggering.  And then the album gets back onto more familiar ground when the rest of the ensemble joins in and hits the gas pedal for a jaunty section featuring some nice accompaniment on flute and some stellar call and response between trumpet and sax.  The melody, both catchy and heartwarming, coalesces later on in the song, and it’s well worth the wait.

The album ends with “Haruka,” a song that opens with a wide, yet almost gentle sway, then leads into a middle section for a set of nifty solos over swing, before returning to a more languorous, more harmonious state for the final notes.

An album with an appealing lyricism, a bevy of well-crafted melodies, and an abounding warmth that just doesn’t quit.

Your album personnel:  Natsuko Sugao (trumpet, flugelhorn), Gonzalo Levin (tenor sax, flute), Darío García (trombone), Ivan Gonzalez (French horn), Enric Peinado (guitar), Marc Cuevas (contrabass), and Joasema Martín (drums, percussion).  Unaccredited:  Voice, Mbira (though I suppose it could be a dulled kora (doubtful) or even a biwa (very doubtful)).

Released on Whatabout Music.

Jazz from the Barcelona scene.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon MP3


Other things you should probably know:

David Mengual - "Menta, Diari Sonor"It appears that Sugao is or was a member of one of David Mengual‘s large ensembles.  Mengual is someone who hasn’t yet received any meaningful print on this site (yet), but a couple of his albums have made my eMusic Jazz Picks columns, and he’s on a short list of musicians whose discographies I’ve been wanting to dig into.  So, I figured I’d make mention of Sugao’s contribution to that music.  Here’s a link to one of my eMusic Jazz Picks columns that lists a Mengual recording.