Tomas Fujiwara is a drummer who appears on so many good recordings that it is difficult to keep up with his activities. Mostly known for being part of New York’s current creative jazz scene – an artistic landscape that combines free jazz with modern composition – he often records and plays with compatriots Mary Halvorson and Taylor Ho Bynum, among many others.
This, his first album as leader of a trio, features Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Brandon Seabrook on guitar, and was recorded live last September. It consists of eight tracks, from 2 to almost 14 minutes in length. At first blush, Variable Bets comes across as more experimental than many of Fujiwara’s efforts. The tracks cannot be pigeonholed into any category, much less jazz. Perhaps the guitar / trumpet / drums lineup contributes to that notion, along with each player’s reluctance to settle on the conventional.
A few particularly high points include when Alessi and Seabrook simultaneously improvise jagged, uptempo melodies over Fujiwara’s agile drumming. Seabrook often lets loose with speed picking and grinding out walls of noise, invoking a cross between Nels Cline and Derek Bailey. Fujiwara is so adept and subtle at times, that it is easy to ignore how much he adds to the music. Alessi combines serious chops with a flair for the unpredictable.
Even of you are familiar with Fujiwara’s works, there will be some surprises here. Though confined to the trio format, the musicians use a broad palette to explore and create. Whatever they do, they do very well. An excellent release that will be out on December 2nd, from Relative Pitch Records.