Drummer Tomas Fujiwara Reconvenes Unique Sextet Triple-Double For Protest Inspired ‘March’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Drummer/composer Tomas Fujiwara has been working with several of the kindred spirits in his sextet, Triple Double, for the past two decades. His relationship with cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, who also doubles up instruments in his sextets, fellow drummer Gerald Cleaver, guitarists Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook, and trumpeter Ralph Alessi along with Bynum. Together they comprise Fuiwara’s Triple Double. Essentially, it’s two trumpet-guitar-drum trios that bounce off each other, sometimes in unison but more often indifferent but coherent enough harmonic directions. This is their second album on the label Firehouse 12, which is home to many of these innovative improvisers. Fujiwara claims that it was easier to prepare for this album since on the 2017 debut, the players had not before played together very much but have since benefitted from many shows and tours.

Despite that statement, there are some new pairings here. The leader had never played with fellow drummer Cleaver until now nor had Alessi and Bynum played together.  However, at the core of the band, Halvorson and Fujiwara collaborate in each other’s ensembles, the collective trio Thumbscrew as well and Fujiwara, the winner of the 2021 DownBeat Critics Poll for Rising Star Drummer, leads another trio with Alessi and Seabrook. As mentioned, the concept is not new, although guitar-trumpet-drum trios are rare. Ornette Coleman formed a double quartet on his album, Twins, five decades ago.  We also alluded to Bynum doubling up in several of his configurations, inspired by Anthony Braxton and the AACM who experimented with many configurations in the latter part of the last century.  

We get a sense of this in the opening “Pack Up, Coming For You” as the first trio of Fujiwara, Bynum, and Halvorson step forth increasingly trading and reflecting intense lines before retreating for the second trio to have its say. Finally, all six combine and get your head spinning (in a good way).  On the much lighter spacious, “Life Only Gets More” we have Fujiwara on vibraphone and the drummers soloing in a ballad format, another rarity. As one may glean from these first two, the players are responding in real-time as if the album was recorded live off the floor.  The lively “Wave-Shake-Angle” is a warped fusion-like piece, highlighting mostly the two guitarists, yet closer listening reveals the other two pairs squaring off and having fun too.  There are melodies in these pieces, but they don’t stay locked in very long. Just when you don’t expect it the melody or head reappears as sunlight breaking through after a whirling storm.

Speaking of which “The March of the Storm Before the Quiet of the Dance” is at the heart of album, featuring jabbing guitar lines, disarming effects and loops, trumpet squeals, and terrific ruckus from the two drummers, replete with occasional march-like beats. Why March?  Certainly, the easiest answer is the month of release but more pertinently, the album was recorded in 2019 amid the many social protest marches that invariably inspired the writing. The word also implies movement, as depicted on the cover, it could be dancers stepping in rhythm or protesters parading for a cause.

“Docile Fury Ballad” flips the words in the title as it begins with a feverish flourish, recedes gradually, yet never settles into a ballad mode. These players just seem too energetically engaged to go that route. “Silhouettes in Smoke,” however is the most deliberate piece of all, making one wonder if the pieces should be labeled accordingly. Again, we hear the leader on vibes while Bynum’s cornet soars and shrieks to Cleaver’s steady rim shots. When Alessi joins in counterpoint to Bynum and the guitarists add the atmospheric effects, it becomes gorgeous, making it easy to indeed visualize those silhouettes in the mist.  The last piece, “For Allen Part II,” is a 17 and a half minute (by far the longest track) improvised drum duet by the leader and Cleaver in tribute to the bandleader’s childhood teacher, Alan Dawson. As implied by “Part II,” the first album had a drum duet as well. This is far more than just two drummers working out though. There’s a sense of melody as if the two drums are singing to each other midway through. 

This is challenging music both to play and to listen to.  It’s both within and without the boundaries of what many associates with jazz, rendered by today’s brightest innovators.

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