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Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up: The Air Is Different

Robert Bush By

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Boston-born and Brooklyn-based drummer Tomas Fujiwara has been stirring things up in the New York City creative music scene for some time now, working with a wide variety of players including cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and guitarist Mary Halvorson.

His working ensemble, Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up, features Halvorson—one of the brightest voices in the new-music continuum to emerge in years—along with muscular bassist Trevor Dunn, tenor saxophonist Brian Settles and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson.

Fujiwara is an excellent drummer, with an ultra-layered approach to ride cymbal dynamics, but it's his composing that is front and center on this recording. The Air Is Different is loaded with haunting melodies, quirky rhythms and protean solos.

Opening with Halvorson's clean-toned essay, "Lineage" transforms into a guitar ostinato when the horns enter. There is a definite nod to Wayne Shorter's oeuvre in the way Fujiwara voices his melodic ideas. Finlayson lets loose with a pithy invention as Halvorson and Fujiwara almost explode underneath with slashing, bubbling guitar and percussive storm clouds. When Settles begins, it's just him and the drummer, who teases the saxophonist's acid-toned warbling with cycles of mallet-driven rolls.

Halvorson's nervous jangles set the tone for "Double Lake, Defined." She takes the first solo, a distortion-laced spot full of excitement, handing the baton to Settles, whose grainy multiphonics and wide vibrato lead to Finlayson's Freddie Hubbard-meets-Don Cherry antics. All of this is driven by Fujiwara's pulsing hi-hat and insistent tom-toms.

"Cosmopolitan (Rediscovery)," features skronk guitar over drawn horn textures, arco bass and the leader's cartoon-like, skittering drums. Suddenly the gears shift dramatically into probing ballad mode, with all of the gorgeous contours of a Kenny Wheeler composition. Settles races warm-toned scales up the neck and Finlayson joins for a brief duel before the melody emerges to tie it all together.

The trumpeter's tart, clarion call blasts introduce "Smoke-Breathing Lights" a cappella until the huge, throaty bass enjoins. Dunn proceeds with a loose-limbed, powerful solo that travels the divide between iconic bassists Jimmy Garrison and Dave Holland. As Dunn begins to outline the form, Fujiwara propels with intricate ride cymbal articulations and Halvorson takes off with a remarkable exploration of single-note storytelling, punctuated with strands of dissonant clusters.

An asymmetrical line, doubled by guitar and saxophone, sets up "Postcards." Finlayson enters, staking out a new direction, supported by bass strumming and Fujiwara's off-kilter percolations. The piece shifts from nervous free-jazz into several moods before settling into an anthem-like cycle, fostering a brawny tenor solo followed by a fulsome trumpet episode.

Fujiwara takes his lone drum solo of the disc—firing off roiling toms and cymbal washes, and sounding almost architectural in conception. Afterwards, a beautiful melody emerges, and builds slowly, like waves crashing into the shore, completing the journey.

The Air Is Different is wildly creative music that never veers into inaccessibility. If you're wondering where jazz might be headed in the new millennium, it's a good place to start.

Track Listing: Lineage; Double Lake, Defined; For Ours; Cosmopolitan (Rediscovery); Smoke-Breathing Lights; Postcards.

Personnel: Tomas Fujiwara: drums; Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Brian Settles: tenor saxophone; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Trevor Dunn: bass.

Title: The Air Is Different | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: 482 Music

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