Jazz and Folk: Scotland-Japan culture clash promises a treat for fans of the finest improvisation

THE unruly creative spirit of free improvisation is at large in Edinburgh's Jazz Bar next Wednesday, when two of Japan's leading jazz musicians, pianist Satoko Fujii and her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, play the only Scottish gig of their European tour in an ensemble including mainstays of the Scottish free improvisation scene, saxophonist Raymond MacDonald, guitarist Neil Davidson, bassist George Lyle and drummer Tom Bancroft.

The two Japanese musicians, who divide their time between Tokyo and New York, attract glowing reviews both together and from playing individually, and MacDonald, who has played and recorded with them before, here and in Japan, is looking forward to the gig.

"They're very open-minded musicians," says MacDonald, a founder member of the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra. "They're collaborators par excellence."

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MacDonald can be heard with the two Japanese players, along with Davidson and Bancroft, on the album Cities, recorded for the Glasgow-based Nu-Jazz label a matter of hours after Fujii and Tamura had stepped off the plane at Glasgow on their first visit to Scotland in 2005. In the sleeve notes, jazz commentator Brian Morton describes what happened in the studio as "a generous tension between quite different constructions of musical language".

MacDonald agrees: "Obviously, they bring their cultural background, and that creates another meeting point. Improvisation is negotiating the differences and similarities between our own approaches and trying to be open-minded and open-eared in what we do.

"You're trying to be alert to the possibilities of what's happening in the moment, and trying to respond to what other people are doing. Because Satoko and Natsuki are such generous musicians, we do find this common ground very quickly."

MacDonald regards this as a good time for the free improvisation scene in Scotland, with the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra running a regular programme of events, including their own GIO Festival in the autumn. The very nature of the form encourages collaboration: apart from co-leading the George Burt/Raymond MacDonald Quartet, MacDonald regularly tours abroad and will shortly head off to Germany to play with drummer Gnter Sommer, an established figure in European free improv, while in this summer's Glasgow Jazz Festival he'll be joined by the American improvising pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn.

He says: "It's a very healthy collaborative environment. GIO does a lot of work with the Goethe Institute, creating spontaneous scores for films, and we get full houses for that." MacDonald also recently won a Creative Scotland Vital Spark award to develop collaborative works with visual artist Martin Boyce and film director David MacKenzie.

To the uninitiated, free improvisation can pose daunting listening – there will be moments when something lyrical, or even melodically identifiable, may coalesce out of the instrumental mle, as in one point in Cities when Tamura's long, sonorous trumpet lines emerge over the intense churning of Fujii's piano. At other times, for the less than convinced listener, the dictum "You're no' here to enjoy yourself, son" may come to mind.

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MacDonald laughs: "I can understand why somebody would say that. But we try and be as open as we can to different possibilities." And he points out that Satoko and Natsuki also play in a variety of groups, and their styles vary from band to band, gig to gig. Natsuki's acoustic quartet, Gato Libre, for instance, draws on world folk music influences and features Fujii on accordion.

At next week's Jazz Bar gig, he suggests, "the audience will be largely from a jazz background, although expecting an element of free improv, and I think there'll be some strong melodic elements and rhythmic features".

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Challenging, perhaps, but with a line-up like that, who knows what may emerge?

• The Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura Ensemble is at the Jazz Bar, Edinburgh, on 14 April. For further information, see www2s.biglobe.ne.jp/~Libra||WEBSTART|| and ||WEBSTART||www.myspace.com/raymondarmacdonald