Tomas Fujiwara and the Hook Up (CD Review)

Tomas Fujiwara and the Hook Up
The Air is Different
482 Music CD 482-10719

Pictures of Tomas Fujiwara’s grandparents, dressed elegantly and exuding warm yet somewhat reserved countenances, grace the cover and sleeve of his latest CD: The Air is Different. The jazz drummer and composer helms this, the second recording of his “Hook Up” group, which includes guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Trevor Dunn, tenor saxophonist Brian Settles, and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson. The Air is Different is in an outing that blends contemporary chamber jazz with fleeting references to trad jazz and Twentieth century neoclassicism. Thus, it embodies both reflection on the traditions of one’s elders and the resolve and courage that their example gives to descendents to forge their own pathways; Fujiwara’s inclusion of family photos is no mere dedicatory happenstance.

Compositions like “Lineage” and “For Ours” present tight structures and duetted thematic melodies that often reference their progenitors; in homage, not parody. Plummy tone from Finlayson and supple, dynamically nuanced drumming from Fujiwara prove particularly distinctive in these pieces. Meanwhile, listeners are treated to a strong and urgent polymetric groove (and shredding solos from Halvorson and Settles) on “Double Lake, Defined,” and free play with a raucous rhythmic underpinning and bracing dissonance on “Cosmopolitan, Rediscovery.”

The CD’s final two selections — “Smoke-Breathing Lights” and “Postcards” — are a bit more extended; allowing the quintet to change demeanors, soloing roles, and accompanying textures a number of times. It’s in these variegated landscapes that Fujiwara and the Hookup shine most brightly, sensing the shifts in one another’s playing with the  near-prescient perception. This is no ESP; it is hard won acquaintance that comes from the chameleon like exchange of roles occurring nearly nightly on a variety of Brooklyn bandstands among these, and many other, frequent collaborators in the ecstatic jazz tradition.

Standing on the shoulders of avant jazz giants, and not afraid to occasionally look over their own for inspiration, Fujiwara and company make exciting music together.

-Christian Carey

Levin Torn White (CD Review)

Tony Levin - David Torn - Alan White

S/T

Lazy Bones Recordings

This is a serious super group that delivers on its potential. Besides being session musicians to the stars and leaders on their own projects, bassist Tony Levin, guitarist David Torn, and drummer Alan White have played in countless groups associated with progressive rock, jazz fusion, and improvised music – King Crimson, Yes, and Liquid Tension Experiment chief among them. But this is their first recording together as a trio. And while it is indeed a powerful sound that they make, the music on Levin Torn White is intricately constructed and adventurous in a way that few modern day power trios can hope to emulate.

There’s more than a dash of the spirit of King Crimson – particularly its later lineups – alive in the music created here. Levin, of course, was the Crimson bassist for much of this time period, but Torn and White channel some signatures of Fripp and Mastelotto too. The guitarist’s own atmospheric improvisations are of course distinctive in their own right. But on the ethereal track “Convergence” they can also reasonably be likened to Fripp’s soundscaping. Meanwhile, Torn’s shredding on “Ultra Mullett” emulates the tart dissonances and skronkish squalls one heard from Thrak era Crim.

White propels the action with his characteristically forceful and energetic playing. But he’s able to turn on a nickel with each time change and unorthodox mathy metric configuration on the menu. I’ve long been an admirer of Tony Levin’s work, but he outdoes himself here, laying down thrumming low end and staccato Chapman stick filigrees that crackle with vivacity.

If you’re someone who thinks that fusion and prog – particularly of the instrumental variety – is rife with noodly indulgences and bathetic compositions, this release is strongly recommended as a corrective of your misapprehensions. Those already among the converted will find much in which to delight here. One hopes it isn’t a one-off collaboration: these three seem to be just getting started!