Fire Note Says: Tomas Fujiwara’s double trio stands out, even in another great year of recorded jazz and improvised music
Album Review: Drummer Tomas Fujiwara has contributed to a number of great recordings in recent years, whether as a sideman or as a member of groups like Thumbscrew (with guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Michael Formanek), but with Triple Double, Mr. Fujiwara shows off his skills as a composer, performer and leader on one of this listener’s favorite records from 2017. The group Mr. Fujiwara assembled for this recording is a double trio — matching sets of guitarists (Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook), horn players (Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and Ralph Alessi on trumpet) and drummers (Mr. Fujiwara and Gerald Cleaver).
This unconventional grouping of six terrific improvisers takes on 10 compositions by Mr. Fujiwara, including “Blueberry Eyes”, which cycles through sections of free improvisation, asymmetrical grooves cut through by horn lines and frantic workouts led by pummeling drums and distorted guitars. Other highlights include “Love and Protest” and “Toasting the Mart”. The former tune distinctly recalls Ornette Coleman’s classic Lonely Woman (from 1959’s The Shape of Jazz to Come), with the horns and Ms. Halvorson’s guitar floating above and threatening to break free from Mr. Seabrook’s anchoring drone and the churning percussion of the two drummers. The funky groove of “Toasting the Mart”—which comes complete with handclaps—sounds a bit like a piece of tape that Teo Macero might have cut from the sessions for On the Corner by Miles Davis. On all of the full ensemble pieces, the doubling of instrumental voices adds great energy, but a different sort of doubling-up happens with “Hurry Home”, a short ballad arranged for guitar and drums that appears twice on the record: once by the duo of Messrs. Seabrook and Cleaver (“Hurry Home B/G”) and again as a duet featuring Mr. Fujiwara and Ms. Halvorson (“Hurry Home M/T”). Both of these tracks are excellent showcases for the distinctive instrumental voices of the two guitarists, and the sensitive interplay between guitar and drums demonstrates what engaged listeners these musicians are.
The centerpiece of the record is essentially another duet, a piece for the two drummers entitled “For Alan”. This piece is dedicated to one of Mr. Fujiwara’s drum teachers, Alan Dawson, and a third voice is (quite literally) added to the track in the form of brief recorded excerpts from drum lessons given by Mr. Dawson to the then 10-year old Tomas Fujiwara. On paper, that device seems to risk coming off as a bit gimmicky or even corny, but I assure you that it is a highly effective and moving tribute to the power of a teacher. Truly outstanding.
Key Tracks: “Blueberry Eyes” / “Love and Protest” / “For Alan”
Artists With Similar Fire: Gerald Cleaver / Ches Smith / Thumbscrew
Tomas Fujiwara Website
Firehouse 12 Records
– Reviewed by Everett Wallace