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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Tomas Fujiwara - Triple Double (Firehouse 12 Records, 2017) ****½

I've long been a fan of drummer Tomas Fujiwara's compositions, enjoying his music's melodic tendencies and avant-garde leanings, on top of understated grooves. Triple Double has all of that and in multiples: two drummers (Fujiwara and Gerald Cleaver), two brass (Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet), and two guitarists (Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook), and the group delivers a stunning album of permutations and combinations of this line-up.

The opening track 'Diving for Quarters' begins with Halvorson (panned to the left) and Seabrook (panned to the right) working distinctly different approaches: Seabrook distorted and slashing, and Halvorson like a crystal spider scampering across a glass table. They come together as the horns enter, I'm assuming Alessi's rounded trumpet tone is more to the left, and Ho Bynum's boisterous and precise sound is to the right. The two drummers seem to work more in tandem than not as their straight forward beat under-girds the oozing melody. That intensity picks up. Towards the end the sextet is cooking, and the follow up, 'Blueberry Eyes', it doesn't relent. Ho Bynum delivers a sharp melody over the roiling guitars and drums. Soon the guitarists are emitting flames from their fretboards. Alessi's turn begins with a muted sound that, over the thrum of the background, has echoes of Miles.

The follow up to this is the first of two 'Hurry Homes'. The first carries the initials 'B/G', and later on in the track sequence, the second is 'M/T'. These two tracks feature guitar and drums duos, one may surmise the duo of Brandon and Gerald comes first. The beginning of their duet starts quietly and generally stays spacious and on the contemplative side throughout. A snippet of audio, which sounds like a conversation from a music/life lesson kicks off the drummers' duet on 'For Allen' (dedicated to drummer Allen Dawson). There is no - as far as I recall - trumpet/cornet or trumpet/guitar duos, which I suppose leaves new possibilities for a follow up album. After a tantalizingly journey from mysterious calm to controlled fury on 'Love and Protest', the group delivers a rather solid anthem on 'Decisive Shadows'. Alessi shines on this one, his punchy lines underscored by the interlocking ping-pongs of the guitars. Seabrook's idiosyncratic teeth-chattering solo follows, and then things really get heavy.

I had given the album a few listen before catching a pre-release show of the double trio at The Jazz Gallery in NYC. It was in watching the group, both how they were arranged in stage, into two sub units consisting of Halvorson/Alessi/Fujiwara and Seabrook/Ho Bynum/Cleaver and how they interacted and reacted in and between these two configuration, that brought the 'triple/double' concept to life. The symmetry and the evolving combinations gives Fujiwara as the composer varying textures and concepts to shape and explore. The result is an album that showcases the players as much as Fujiwara's compositional prowess, and together they are a potent combination.