Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up, The Air is Different

Peter Margasak

By Peter Margasak

on 05.14.12 in Reviews

Over the last decade or so, drummer Tomas Fujiwara has routinely grounded musical chaos in something familiar and grooving, whether it’s manning the trap kit in the wild Indian brass band Red Baraat or maintaining order while fracturing time in his work with cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum. He’s part of deep musical family in Brooklyn, and his own excellent quintet the Hook Up features a crew of players that collaborate with one another in many contexts: Guitarist Mary Halvorson has played with him in Bynum’s bands and in Thirteenth Assembly, and she’s played with bassist Trevor Dunn in his Trio-Convulsant; trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson also works in Halvorson’s quintet. Needless to say, the band, which also includes tenor saxophonist Brian Settles, not only has a history together, but it displays a sharp degree of empathy, trusting one another enough to tease out the subtleties in Fujiwara’s compositions, which both propel high-level improvisation and contrast it with cool elegance.

A sense of meditative calm in the midst of turbulence

The album is dedicated to Fujiwara’s Japanese grandparents — his grandfather Josho, a Zen Buddhist priest who died in 2010, is pictured on the album cover — and while only the opening track “Lineage” specifically addresses them (its opening section is inspired by the tones produced by a Buddhist bell-bowl from his temple in Sajiro) the whole collection conveys a sense of meditative calm in the midst of turbulence. The drummer favors episodic tunes, assembling discrete passages given seamless articulation by his excellent band. The stuttering groove of “Double Lake, Defined,” a piece inspired by a classic track by the hip-hop duo Black Star, is peppered with a staccato unison horn bleats, but it’s the terse, fiery solos by Halvorson, Settles, and Finlayson that turn it out, while “For Ours” opens as a serene ballad, with plangent horns caressed by clean, ringing, vibrato-rich guitar chords, but when Settles begins his solo, but his lines and the groove of Fujiwara and Dunn accelerate and intensify into something else altogether.

“Cosmopolitan (Rediscovery)” opens with brooding intensity, Halvorson unleashing post-Derek Bailey tangles, while the horns shape dark long tones. But before long, the horns pull apart and the mood chills out, with an ambling groove and beautifully full-bodied lines from Settles and sweet-toned comping from Halvorson. In the liner notes the drummer credits Bjork, Henry Threadgill, and Michael Formanek with inspiring this tune, and that unlikely grouping says a lot about Fujiwara’s wide-ranging sensibilities. The album covers a lot of ground and presents many dualities, but the leader never loses his firm grip.