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Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Tomas Fujiwara—Pith (Out of Your Head, 2023)

By Gary Chapin

Tomas Fujiwara brings us the 7 Poets Trio—himself on drums, Tomeka Reid on cello, and Patricia Brennan on vibes—for their follow up to their 2019 Rogue Art debut .

I associate this trio with Mary Halvorson, but that’s probably because the first time I heard Fujiwara and Brennan was in Halvorson’s group, and Brennan’s vibes are very striking! They are a signature sound that immediately commands your attention. Tomeka Reid, I’ve been following for years, partly because I’m both a cello and AACM obsessive, but also because paying such attention has reaped benefits.

Pith begins as it means to go on, with compositions that provoke conversations between the players, the kind of conversations that go on into the night and get you to ignore your responsibilities.

This set of instruments—drums, cello, vibes—is remarkable for a bunch of reasons, not just its rarity. Some have called it a “chamber jazz” group, and that fits. It does a lot of wandering in extraordinary spaces, and there is an attractive coolness—with a story underneath—a very wry sense of humor. But I always wonder, when folks bring out the “chamber jazz” trope for a vibes recording, if they’re just being lured in by the Milt Jackson/Modern Jazz Quartet association. Am I? Associations are strange.

Reid sticks to pizzicato playing most of the time, playing the bass role, but the arco excursions have more impact because of this, as the only sustain sound herein. But they aren’t out there. I am reminded of Ron Carter’s work on Eric Dolphy’s second record. The vibes also bring Dolphy to mind, because of Bobby Hutcherson’s tour de force on Out to Lunch. But Hutcherson did not play on the record with Ron Carter. And there’s no Dolphy to be found in the 7 Poets Trio, but my ear tells me Fujiwara is deeply connecting to Dolphy’s stream. (As Wikipedia points out, the clock face on the cover of Dophy’s Out to Lunch has seven arrows. Seven arrows? 7 Poets Trio? Hm? Hm? Associations, as I said, are strange.)

Leaving all that aside—finally! I can hear you mutter—the experience of listening to Pith is intrigued, delighted contentment, like all of my best jazz club memories. The word “pith” can be misleading. There are a number of meanings, both official and un-, but the important one is that of “importance.” When you are being “pithy,” you aren’t being brief or witty, you are getting to the core of the matter. The unadorned substance. With this sparse and abundant trio, these compositions, and these musical conversations, the metaphor is apt.


Steve Reynolds said...

The trio is playing tonight at Jazz Gallery in NYC. I’ll be seeing Fred Frith with a trio of musicians including Nava Dunkelman. I saw the trio earlier this year and the author captured their coolness in words. Very finely attuned music with Tomeka as the centerpiece. Very astute comment that using the bow somewhat rarely added to its effect especially since Tomeka is as brilliant an arco player as exists on the cello. Sad I will miss the show but opportunities to see Frith are rare. I did see his duo with Zeena Parkins on Saturday night and it was radically tremendous combining a 40 minute suite of composed music with 3 improvisations totaling 20 minutes to complete the hour set.