The Air Is Different (482 Music) features a killer band—guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Trevor Dunn, tenor saxophonist Brian Settles, and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson—that pushes and pulls the drummer's lovely, episodic compositions with high-level improvisation. The members have a fair amount of history together, playing in various combinations in a raft of different ensembles. The album cover pictures Fujiwara's grandfather Josho in a dignified pose—a Zen Buddhist priest, he died in 2010, and the drummer's liner notes describe their last visit together in Sajiro, Japan, in 2009. The whole collection maintains a meditative calm, despite some pretty turbulent improvisation, a fair amount of charged melodic counterpoint, and several transitions from serene balladry to driving rhythm and back. The liner notes also suggest that Fujiwara is coming at this music with wide-open ears: he explains that the stuttering beats and staccato horn parts on "Double Lake, Defined" were inspired by the Black Star classic "Definition," and his commentary on the shape-shifting "Cosmopolitan (Rediscovery)" cites both Bjork and Henry Threadgill.
As you can hear in "For Ours" below, Fujiwara is a forceful but subtle bandleader. His playing on the record is consistently inventive, but it never draws attention to itself. He's written sturdy tunes and put his faith in the members of his band to express their personalities within that context—knowing how assemble and direct such a group may be Fujiwara's greatest strength here.
Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up, "For Ours"
Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, The Freedom Rider (Blue Note)
A Certain Ratio, To Each . . . (Universal Sound)
Rich Halley Trio, Objects (Louie)
John Butcher, Phil Durrant, Paul Lovens, Radu Malfatti, and John Russell, News From the Shed (Emanem)
Dionne Warwick, Presenting Dionne Warwick (Collector's Choice)