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Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up: The Air is Different

Troy Collins By

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Dedicated to his grandparents and inspired in by part by family remembrances, The Air is Different is the second recording from Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up, following Actionspeak (482 Music), their impressive 2010 debut. The youthful drummer's flagship ensemble continues to explore the inroads made on its previous album, plotting a memorable course through Fujiwara's fully realized, nonlinear compositions.

The quintet's lineup has barely changed since its inception four years ago, with bassist Trevor Dunn now filling Danton Boller's position. Trumpet player Jonathan Finlayson and tenor saxophonist Brian Settles continue to forge a colorful frontline in collusion with renowned guitarist Mary Halvorson, whose own Quintet features identical instrumentation—as well as contributions from Finlayson. Though they work with the same palette, Fujiwara embraces a subtler range of dynamics in his writing for The Hook Up compared to Halvorson's Quintet, although both artists favor dramatic transitional narratives over conventional forms.

Incorporating everything from impressionistic accents to driving polyrhythms, Fujiwara underpins the proceedings with a spacious, orchestral sensibility, setting the stage for a series of probing excursions that carefully balance rigorous frameworks with unfettered improvisations. Even during turbulent passages, the date exudes an air of meditative calm; the pervasive mood is attributable to the influence of Fujiwara's late grandfather, a Zen Buddhist priest memorialized in the liner notes. The same text illuminates Fujiwara's diverse interests, citing the overtones of a Buddhist bell-bowl as inspiration for the opening of the regal "Lineage," the freestyle verse of rapper Talib Kweli as the basis for the edgy miniature "Double Lake, Defined," and the work of Bjork and Henry Threadgill as the source for the chameleonic swinger "For Ours."

Indicative of Fujiwara's episodic compositional approach, the free-form opening of "Cosmopolitan (Rediscovery)" gradually develops into an opulent melody of breathtaking beauty, underscored by Settles and Finlayson's rhapsodic cadences. The sinuous "Smoke-Breathing Lights" reveals a more concise form, ebbing and flowing with serpentine contributions from Halvorson and Settles before the rousing coda, which highlights Finlayson's spirited valedictory cadences. The closing "Postcards" is the most expansive offering; dedicated to Fujiwara's mother, the piece consists of three separate movements, veering from an austere conversational introduction and lush, harmonious midsection to a soul stirring finale.

Intellectually stimulating and emotionally compelling, The Air is Different is another strong effort from Fujiwara, whose presence as a rising scene leader gains traction with each release.

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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