Tomas Fujiwara: Pith

NY drummer accompanied by vibraphone and cello swings through an amalgam of free improv, rock groove, chamber jazz and post-bop


A significant long-term collaborator of Mary Halvorson and Taylor Ho Bynum, drummer-composer Tomas Fujiwara is amongst the most exciting new talents to emerge from New York’s creative music scene during the last decade. This particular ensemble with cellist Tomeka Reid and vibraphonist Patricia Brennan dates back to 2018, and their 2019 debut 7 Poets Trio (RogueArt) was an exemplar of its kind, brilliantly traversing the lines between free improvisation and intricate chamber jazz.

The trio’s long awaited follow-up Pith was composed during Fujiwara’s long Covid-19 hiatus, and with the luxury of time to edit and hone the material until nothing extraneous remained, it strikes me as an essential work in every sense.

The gently spinning theme of opening track Solace immediately grabs the attention, Brennan’s flowing linear solo steadily enveloped by Fujiwara’s shifting pulses. The drummer seemingly plays ahead, behind and around the beat simultaneously, yet there’s an unmistakable “swing”. Swelter is more four to the bar, a pulsating rock vamp which builds in intensity. As Reid’s cello holds the low end, Fujiwara ratchets up the power before the piece finally dissipates in a haze of metallic overtones.

Resolve is perhaps the most introspective piece of the set, Brennan leading a sequence of Bachian counterpoint before the piece liquifies into a pool of ambient sound. Josho is more straight ahead, redolent of the great post-bop milestones of Andrew Hill and Bobby Hutcherson, while Other is a thrillingly chaotic assemblage of freely improvised exchanges.

The contrapuntal theme of closing track Breath appears distantly related to Resolve, but this time the instruments adopt their more traditional rhythmic and harmonic roles as the piece builds towards a sublime free-bop coda. Fujiwara’s overall schematic may be reductive, but Pith is a really powerful demonstration that less can be more.

Solace; Swelter; Resolve; Josho; Other; Breath (38.39)
Fujiwara (d) with Patricia Brennan (vib); Tomeka Reid (clo). New Haven, CT, 15 April 2023.
Out Of Your Head Records OOYH 022