Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up
After All Is Said
There’s plenty of free improvisation on this third album from the quintet led by drummer Tomas Fujiwara. But there’s also a certain restraint that brings a sense of order. It comes from the leader’s sense of balance and the telepathy of the musicians, allowing the individual voices to coalesce into a whole.
The front line features trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and Brian Settles on tenor saxophone and flute. They often serve to ground these seven pieces with a strong melodic and rhythmic foundation. Fujiwara’s rumbling style, punctuated with heavy cymbal accents, keeps everything rolling. While his approach is certainly not understated, it’s never bombastic either, as he proves on the well-crafted unaccompanied solo track “For Tom and Gerald.” Guitarist Mary Halvorson’s trademark pinched, pitch-bending sound adds a dose of anxiety to much of the proceedings. Bassist Michael Formanek joins the group this time around, and his loose-limbed approach fits in perfectly.
In Fujiwara’s diverse, shape-shifting compositions, the group typically explores one motif only to abandon it for another, equally compelling one. “The Comb” kicks off with Fujiwara, Settles and Halvorson freely improvising, followed by a chamber-like duo section of Finlayson’s plaintive held notes and Formanek playing bowed bass lines. By the time the rest of the group joins, Settles has taken on the dirge-like tone established by Finlayson even as Fujiwara plays skittish patterns.
“When” begins with Halvorson alternating between Nirvana-inspired chords and earthy, Bill Frisell-like passages. The piece then settles into a ballad highlighted by Finlayson’s lyrical solo. Elsewhere, “Boaster’s Roast” is a burning piece punctuated with great solos from Settles and Finlayson, while “The Hook Up” is a relatively straightforward swinger, albeit with a loose harmonic feel.
What’s most surprising is how compactly everything fits together. Given the freewheeling nature of the music, there are few dull patches. That’s a testament to the performances and Fujiwara’s convincingly idiosyncratic approach. —John Frederick Moore