A Weekend at Cornelia Street Cafe: Reviews of Secret Keeper and Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up (4/17 and 4/18/15)

This past weekend, Cornelia Street Cafe hosted two significant record release concerts. On Friday, guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Stephan Crump teamed up with their Secret Keeper project to debut their second record, Emerge (Intakt). On Saturday, Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up (including Halvorson, Jonathan Finlayson, Brian Settles, and Michael Formanek) debuted their third record, After All Is Said (482 Music). Both records deserve critical attention.


Secret Keeper

Since forming in the summer of 2012, Secret Keeper has evolved considerably. The duo originally met to play some duets and just happened to record their first meetings. Those encounters, including their very first notes together, appeared on their fully-improvised debut record, Super Eight. Their sophomore release takes a different turn, with each of the musicians contributing four compositions in addition to performing “What’ll I Do,” by Irving Berlin. Both players display virtuoso talent as well as innovative musical vision.

The band opened with the title track and set the tone right from the beginning. The music moved slowly, while intimately weaving the sound of guitar and bass together. Halvorson’s guitar often danced like firelight above and amidst the deeper abyss of Crump’s bass. At times dark and foreboding, at other times, pure, yet patient energy, the two made the most of each note and each sonic relationship. Both players displayed bold, yet honest voices over a sparse landscape that built up to peaks and then gradually faded.

“In Time You Yell” was a cohesive, melodic chase with cutting guitar out front with bass sometimes echoing the leader, at other times creating a backdrop of revelry. “Disproportionate Endings” brought on cascades of sound in mellow and edgy lines opening up an ambiance of guitar over bedrock of bass. “Planets” set orbiting pin points of sounds in motion which led right into “A Muddle of Hope” in which Halvorson created a fantastic briar patch through which Crump moved with remarkable precision. The first set then concluded with “Bridge Loss Sequence” which opened with fiery, slashing sounds building towards a sudden withdrawal that reached up off the strings in celestial ascent.

The second set opened with “Turns to White Gold,” one of the more impressive pieces that showed what both musicians were capable of doing. The piece began with patient interactions gaining energy and then suddenly bursting with fire.  Then an improvised piece from their first record, “Mirrors” led into “What’ll I Do” in which they incorporated a certain buoyancy in supporting each other together with a beautiful resonance.

“Nakata” featured spasmodic earthquakes of sound flashing before the audience. “Toothsea,” another piece from their debut record, took a contemplative turn in which they did some worthwhile searching as they built towards a climax of focused mayhem. They closed with “Erie,” another standout, which opened with an aqueous abyss of sound and deep, cutting, bowed bass. It was the perfect pensive dark dissonance with which to send the audience off into the night. Confidence carries these two musicians to great heights in their exclamatory and vivid style. Emerge takes this band in a new direction, a big leap forward for this duo.

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Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up

After All Is Said is a bold statement featuring a number of top shelf performers. Fujiwara is one of the premiere drummers of his generation and has built an impressive discography in recent years. Following Actionspeak (2010) and The Air Is Different (2012), the band’s third release investigates related themes–memory and human relationships–in seven intriguing compositions  that put the strengths of the band’s members on full display. Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet) brings a crisp style by which he articulates his ideas vividly and with great precision. Having developed a deep aesthetic understanding with Mary Halvorson as a member of her quintet and septet, the two displayed their communication readily throughout the evening. Brian Settles is the perfect counter to the trumpeter. The tenor saxophonist has a warm tone that moves like water amidst the others, providing some necessary cohesion for the ensemble. One of the most exciting developments with the band since its last release is the addition of master bassist Michael Formanek to the line-up. He brings peerless energy and robust sound to the ensemble in ways that push the band’s sound to new heights.

The band opened with “Lastly” which Fujiwara suggested wryly is a “possible ending.” It got the energy going and exhibited one of the hallmarks of the leader’s style and composition frame: constant movement with drums and bass in a leading role, guitar slashing across the musical canvas or creating tension, with the horns alternating on casting yellow across the deep blues, greens, and violets of the sound scape. Settles opened with stark, mournful flute lines, a harbinger of the emotional richness that was to follow. An ending with new beginnings.

The band followed with “Boaster’s Roast,” an appropriately titled piece because of its difficulty, which the band carried out with a confident air. After the horns opened in tandem, the players built toward a brilliant guitar-bass-drums interaction with Halvorson flashing above pulsing rhythms. Then the tune returned to complex meters driven by bass and drums with trumpet, guitar, and tenor taking turns moving sure-footed over the top. This piece is one of the most impressive songs on the new record.

The first set closed with “When,” in which Halvorson opened with a Kurt Cobain solo reference that sent a satisfied shiver through any bona fide Generation X-er in the audience. But then she morphed it right into one of her signature ambient twists before returning to the theme several times. After the full ensemble added significant energy, the piece split into a trumpet solo. Finlayson then showed his remarkable ability to add emphasis to selective notes by making perfect use of space. The half-seconds he placed at key moments throughout his lines framed the sounds with crystalline clarity.

After opening the second set with “Lineage” from their sophomore record, the band took fun turns through “The Hook Up” and “Folly Cove” before ending with the masterpiece, “The Comb.” From a multitude of disparate sounds from all five players, the song emerged to take shape, then established definitive cohesion with a trumpet-bass duet. Then tenor sax began to ascend over a boiling mix of the others, with trumpet and guitar also having their moments with bass throwing its shoulder into the underbelly of the piece with brilliant cymbal work flitting at the tips. Of all the investigations into memory that Fujiwara has yet offered us, this may be the most touching and provocative. The story behind the song, told at length in the liner notes of the record, gives light to a piece that is a well-proportioned mix of mourning and hope.

Both of these records are well-orchestrated and deserve some serious ears. The live performances this weekend at Cornelia Street Cafe gave them a worthy send off.

–Cisco Bradley, April 20, 2015

Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up World Premiere of Music from 3rd Record Tonight! (Sneak Peak #4)

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Tonight Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up perform the world premiere of music from the third record, After All Is Said, at Cornelia Street Cafe, 9 pm, 2 sets. Below is the fourth and final installment of an interview conducted with Tomas over the past few weeks.


Cisco Bradley: If you had to pick five non-contemporary records that most impacted you what would they be?

Tomas Fujiwara:

  1. John Coltrane: A Love Supreme
  2. Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus
  3. Miles Davis: Four and More
  4. Wayne Shorter: Speak No Evil
  5. Charlie Parker: Bird with Strings

Cisco Bradley: What five contemporary records have had the greatest influence upon you?

Tomas Fujiwara:

  1. Wayne Shorter: Beyond the Sound Barrier
  2. Gerald Cleaver Uncle June: Be It As I See It
  3. Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city
  4. Michael Formanek: Small Places
  5. Meshell Ndegeocello: Comfort Woman

Cisco Bradley: This time of year, you must have one eye on the NBA Playoffs. What are your predictions?

Tomas Fujiwara:

First round East winners: Hawks, Cavs, Bulls, Wizards

First round West winners: Warriors, Memphis, San Antonio (I’m not convinced by the Clippers), Houston

Second Round East winners: Hawks, Cavs

Second Round West winners: San Antonio, Memphis (I think they’ll wear the Warriors down physically)

Eastern Conference Champ: Cavs

Western Conference Champ: San Antonio

Champion: San Antonio (We’ve learned to never count them out)

The Spurs still have it, and peaked at the right time. The Cavs rely too much on a great inexperienced player (Irving), a great and poorly utilized player (Love), and a proven implosion-waiting-to-happen (JR Smith). Plus, they have a rookie coach who hasn’t been particularly impressive. Popovich is going to take it to him.

Playlist for the Week of April 6, 2015

  • Commitment (Will Connell, Jason Kao Hwang, William Parker, Zen Matsuura – The Complete Recordings 1981/1983 (No Business, 2010)
  • Mikko Innanen with William Parker, Andrew Cyrille – Song for a New Decade (TUM, 2014)
  • Harris EisenstadtGolden State II (Songlines, 2015)
  • Kaze – Uminari (Circum-Libra, 2015)
  • Billy Lester – Unabridged (Jujikaan, 2015)
  • Simon Frick – Solo (Boomslang, 2014)
  • Jesse StackenHelleborus (New Sound, 2014)
  • Dave Rempis Percussion Quartet – Hunter-Gatherers (482 Music, 2007)

Tomas Fujiwara and the Hook Up to Release 3rd Album in April (Sneak Peak #3)

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Part 3 of the April Artist Feature on Drummer/Composer Tomas Fujiwara


Cisco Bradley: I understand that you are both an avid basketball fan as well as a player of the sport. Do you absorb or incorporate any aspects of the rhythm or movement of the game into your music, compositions, or performance?

Tomas Fujiwara: There’s not a direct influence of basketball on my music, but I started playing ball at an early age, so a lot of early “lessons” were learned in the context of the game. For example, it’s where I learned the very simple and obvious truth that working on something–practice, repetition, and focus–helped you improve.  As a kid, you’re subconsciously creating your identity and finding things that define you–skills, interests, opinions, etc.–and for me basketball was one of the first things that I gravitated towards. I would arrive at my afterschool program 45 minutes before the rest of the kids, and a teacher (also a musician, I would later find out) and I would play basketball. He taught me the rules, showed me some of the basic fundamentals of shooting, dribbling, boxing out, etc., and we would play one on one. He was patient and helpful, but he never let me win just because I was a kid. I had to figure out how to get better and how to compensate for the fact that he was taller, had more experience, and was more skilled. It really taught me how to look at something I was interested in, something I wanted to participate in, and figure out ways to get better and expand my knowledge. That sort of thinking had a direct influence on how I approached learning about music and how to play the drums.

As cliche as it sounds, it also taught me teamwork. As I’ve applied that to music, I’ve always wanted to be a musician that, while staying true to my musical personality, contributes to the whole of the ensemble and composition. That role and my approach to it, might be different depending on the situation. I never wanted to be a musician whose approach was to play the same in any context, without much regard to the specific musical situation. For some this is called “doing what I do”, or “being true to their individuality”, but to me that type of attitude seems to work more for solo, not ensemble, playing. Finding that balance between ones personal sound, approach, and aesthetic and that of the ensemble as a whole, has always been an interesting and inspiring challenge and probably some of that was subconsciously influenced by playing a team sport, reading situations, and figuring out what worked best, in real time.

And basketball affects my music in that I probably watch and play at times when I should be writing or practicing!

Cisco Bradley: Family and human relationships seem to be ever-present in your music. Could you talk about this aspect of your artistic inspiration?

Tomas Fujiwara: As we talked about in an earlier interview, writing soundtracks to scenes is a very big part of my compositional process. These images come from stories, real or fictitious, past, present, or future. Many of these stories come from the people around me–family and friends. These narratives are often inspiring in that they are told directly to me, in three dimensional form, infused with my history with that particular person. This process of hearing a story adds so much more depth than what you would get from the written word. The telling of the story becomes part of the story, and the personality of the storyteller adds color and nuance. It’s also important to me to use narratives from people close to me, because these are stories that are personal to me, and expressing them is what gives me a voice that is my own. I’m pretty sure no one has written a song about my grandfather or my mother, and yet their lives are filled with vivid scenes and incredible moments that are a great inspiration to me.

Playlist for the Week of March 30, 2015

  • Nate Wooley/Ken Vandermark – East by Northwest (Pleasure of the Text, 2014)
  • Tim Daisy Trio – A Fine Day in Berlin (Relay, 2014)
  • Han-earl Park, Catherine Sikora, Nick Didkovsky, Josh Sinton – Anomic Aphasia (SLAM Productions, 2015)
  • Mike Pride SoloListening Party (Akord Records, 2015)
  • Ted Byrnes/Michael Foster – Astringent (self-released, c. 2013)
  • Pascal Niggenkemper Solo – Look with Thine Ears (Clean Feed, 2015)
  • Black Artists Group – In Paris, Aries 1973 (Rank & File, 1973)
  • Joe McPhee – Nation Time (Bo’Weavil, 1971)
  • William Parker – Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace (Centering, 1981)

New This Week on Jazz Right Now / March 30, 2015




Playlist for the Week of March 23, 2015

  • Ingrid Laubrock, Ralph Alessi, Kris Davis, Tom Rainey – LARK (Skirl, 2013)
  • Steffen Schleiermacher – Soviet Avant Garde, vol. 1 (Hat Hut, 1996)
  • Steffen Schleiermacher – Soviet Avant Garde, vol. 2 (Hat Hut, 1999)
  • Jeff Cosgrove, Frank Kimbrough, Martin Wind – Conversations with Owls (Grizzley, 2015)
  • Vox Arcana – Aerial Age (Allos Documents, 2010)
  • Vox Arcana – Soft Focus (Relay, 2014)
  • Sylvie Courvoisier Trio – Double Windsor (Tzadik, 2014)