What, exactly, is Tomas Fujiwara’s new band, Triple Double?
Is it a big, sprawling sextet? Two power trios? Three intimate duets? Or simply half a dozen extraordinary individuals coming together in service of a single musical goal?
The correct answer, of course, is “all of the above”.
As the Washington-state-raised drummer explains, on the line from his home in Brooklyn, he wasn’t thinking about the almost fractal possibilities of the band when he first called guitarists Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook, trumpeter Ralph Alessi and cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, and his fellow percussionist Gerald Cleaver.
“Originally, this was more about the sound and musical personality of the six musicians,” he says. “In other words, I thought about the musicians first, and less about a specific instrumentation that I tried to fit the musicians into—but as I realized the unique instrumentation of the ensemble, with the doubling of the instruments, I certainly tried to use that to get interesting-sounding combinations, compositional strategies, and effects.
“Once I knew what the band was and who was going to be in it,” he continues, “I was thinking of two trios, two mirrored trios. The idea of mirroring was a concept that was at the forefront of my mind. But as we started working on the music and performing, I guess I started thinking of it more and more as three duos—and what I like about the doubling of the instruments is that there’s also a certain kind of connection and kinship for anyone who plays your exact instrument.”
It’s not that Fujiwara and Cleaver, Halvorson and Seabrook, and Alessi and Bynum are clones of one another. Far from it: the musicians employ such diverse approaches that Triple Double uses a severely restricted sonic palette—no bass, woodwinds, keyboards, or bowed strings—to achieve an infinitely variable sound. At times, the effect is almost as lush and complicated as the natural world, with the drums providing a basic landscape, the guitars providing contrasting harmonic or topographical information, and the brass blowing like the wind.
Fujiwara doesn’t disagree, and he doesn’t entirely agree, either.
“I love that,” he says. “It kind of proves what I say a lot of times, which is that I certainly have influences that I’m thinking about and am inspired by when I write, and as little of that as I can give is a good thing. And it has nothing to do with keeping secrets or anything like that; it has to do with exactly what just happened, where you gave me an impression that I had never even thought about. But, to me, it just completely makes sense. I can almost see my own music in a new way, and yet you are allowed to have this very personal experience with it.
“If, before listening, I had said, ‘Well, the horns are the birds and the drums are the whales, and it’s inspired by this novel,’ then you’re kind of looking for those things,” he adds. “And that’s very much going to affect your experience of it.”
So, for now, we won’t say much more about Fujiwara’s band—except to note that if you’d like to hear some state-of-the-art East Coast creative music, don’t forget to add Triple Double to your jazz festival menu.
Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double plays the Ironworks at midnight on Saturday (June 29), as part of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival. Fujiwara, Bynum, and Halvorson will join French pianist Benoît Delbecq in Illegal Crowns, which plays a free afternoon show at Performance Works on Friday (June 28), and the drummer will also give a free 3 p.m. workshop at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on Saturday (June 29).