Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up: Actionspeak (2010)
Actionspeak, by drummer Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up, operates as an updated take on Miles Davis' 1960s quintet idea. As a working band, the combination of Fujiwara with bassist Danton Boller, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, guitarist Mary Halvorson and saxophonist Brian Settles presents musical entertainment, more than intellectual device, while advancing the ideology of jazz as a viable commodity. This is new music and very easy to love.
While this is Fujiwara's first recording as leader, he has been a contributing member of several bands including Ideal Bread, Positive Catastrophe, and bands led by Mitch Marcus, Matana Roberts, Matt Bauder, and Sunny Jain. His closest collaborator and musical partner is trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum.
Like Miles Davis, Fujiwara is building upon what has come before, but touching on a freshness of sound and perspective. Citing inspiration from Wayne Shorter, rapper AZ, Me'Shell NdegeOcello, and author Haruki Murakami, Fujiwara's compositions may have been recorded in a studio, but they beg to be presented live.
The groovy funk of the balladic "Should I Do" is a jumping off point for Finlayson and Settles to cross hornsstuttering lines that skip, slide, and undulate over the beat. From somewhere, Halvorson's guitar steps into Fujiwara's changed pace, picking simple notes as the emotions shift. This band is adept at influencing emotion with shifts of tempo and style. The repeating notes of "Folly Cove" sound much like a basketball losing energy as it bounces to a halt. After stating the theme via solo instrumentation, the music progresses at the same pace, but with the full quintet voicing the pulse. Halvorson's guitar effects skew the works; her unique sound prevalent throughout. On the post-bop "The Hunt," the guitarist alters the tuning of her guitar to curve and distort the sound's image while the band delivers a heavyweight groove. The music is attractively weird and oddly danceable, if only in your head.
Fujiwara's compositions compete with the players for attention. His other ballad, "Questions," is poignant and hauntingly beautiful, allowing for translucent soloing by each player, with Finlayson distinguishing himself with uncontaminated purity. The burner here is "Opal," a short track that begs for an expansion of its energy into a longer blowing device.
An impressive debut as leader but, more than that, this is a sturdy working quintet that progresses the music but not at the cost of listenership.
Track Listing: The Hunt; Should I Do; Folly Cove; The Throes; Questions; Opal; Soundtrack to Romance.
Personnel: Danton Boller: bass; Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Tomas Fujiwara: drums; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Brian Settles; tenor saxophone.
Record Label: 482 Music