Listening to this is a strange experience, not because the music is especially unusual, but because it runs so counter to what I expected when I saw the names Natsuki Tamura and Satoko Fujii on the cover. Granted, I haven’t heard either in awhile, but last time I did they were doing the free-jazz/new-music thing. The themes on Strange Village, derived from European and South American folk music, are something else entirely.
Fujii abandons piano for accordion—appropriately, given this music has more in common with Astor Piazzola’s Nuevo Tango than the Cecil Taylor-ish free jazz she’s best known for. Tamura’s trumpet is warm, lyrical and consonant, in contrast to the tonally and harmonically experimental nature of his other work. The pair is joined by acoustic guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura and bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu. Tsumura plays with a firm attack and few wasted notes. Koreyasu has chops-galore, coupled with a Hadenesque plaintiveness. Fujii’s accordion playing is tentative and necessarily without the nuance of her piano playing. The band occasionally goes the tiniest bit “out”—if you consider Bartókesque modality “out”—but for the most part the music eschews conflict for surface beauty. Good? I suppose, if prettiness is your bag.