Bandleader, composer, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara possesses a musical dexterity that might go unnoticed if not for its ripple effect. He has brought his rhythmic and compositional imprint to a wide variety of settings: as a member of the collective trio Thumbscrew and in a long-standing duo with Taylor Ho Bynum. While these collaborative efforts could define and sustain him, a more ambitious musical intelligence emerges on closer inspection.
Tomas’s instincts as a bandleader for assembling combinations of players have enlivened not just his own bands but have generated new collaborative relationships throughout the creative music scene.
For instance, Michael Formanek’s renowned ensemble includes the entirety of The Hook Up. This understanding of how to assemble a band – the different approaches and timbres a group of players bring to a given context – is, in its way, akin to writing conventional melody and harmony, or to understanding how to combine silence and sound in an improvisation. Tomas’s new recording, Triple Double, showcases this gift: viewed as a double trio or a triple duo, its heart lies in the contrasting, shifting and regrouping of the players’ instrumental voices.
Triple Double debuts two encounters on paired instruments: trumpeter Ralph Alessi and cornetist Bynum; and on drums, Tomas and Ger Cleaver. Additionally, it features Brandon Seabrook and Halvorson, two avatars of contemporary electric guitar.
Seen another way, the sextet brings together two longstanding trios: Tomas’s own group with Alessi and Seabrook, and another with his long-time collaborators Halvorson and Bynum. The album features all the possible permutations in a churning group music, highlighting both Tomas’s compositional strengths and the distinct musical personalities of each performer.
Through a variety of approaches, including grid patterns, mirrored ensemble play, and a subtle interplay of structure and freedom, Tomas’s compositions offer each musician the chance to display their own formidable technique and vocabulary. The variety of groupings, instrumental shading, and formal contours present a mutable orchestra conforming itself to the composition’s needs.
The opening cut, Diving for Quarters, offers a succinct illustration of this vision. Based around a fifteen-beat cycle, the music draws the listener in with Halvorson and Seabrook’s exotic opening improvisation. Brass is featured next, with Bynum coercing a statement of the melody from his cornet before Alessi weaves his way to the foreground. The piece closes with a drum duo and Tomas and Cleaver demonstrate why they are two of the most in-demand percussionists in creative music.
The album’s philosophical center piece, For Alan, is another drum duo and features a recording of ten-year-old Tomas in a lesson with his mentor Alan Dawson.
The album shifts from the more freewheeling feel of the first half to something more evocative: in the second half of the album, melody comes to the forefront, anchored by more grounded rhythmic forms. The change in mood may also reflect a deeper message – as with previous albums, Triple Double has Tomas’s family history in mind.