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They Got Game: Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double in Greenfield

Not long ago, Tomas Fujiwara wanted to take a break from bandleading. He just had a discouraging experience with a record label and needed respite from the headaches that come from trying to translate music into dollars. So, what did he do? He created Triple Double, an all-star, two-sided trio.


The sextet: Fujiwara and Gerald Cleaver, drums, Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook, guitars, Ralph Alessi, trumpet and Taylor Ho Bynum, cornet, formed with a push from Ho Bynum.


“I had been thinking for a while about mirror trios,” Fujiwara told me after his March 13th Triple Double concert at Hawks & Reed. “I had a working trio with Ralph and Brandon, and I’ve been playing with Mary and Taylor for a long time. It all came together easily. I obviously don’t get much a of chance to work with drummers, but I knew I wanted to work with Gerald. He always makes every situation sound better. Taylor kept encouraging me to get it together.”


The eponymous recording on Firehouse 12 came out on CD in 2017 and featured the six musicians we heard in Greenfield. The vinyl release of that material (plus two extra tracks) was the impetus to create a tour that will also take them to Cambridge, New Haven, Pittsburgh and Lewisburg, PA.


Half the evening featured new compositions by Fujiwara. Two of the pieces debuted publicly last week at the Jazz Gallery, which serves as something of a New York home base for Fujiwara. The other piece, “Triple Double: Book 2/Song 1,” had its world premiere on Wednesday.


Fujiwara’s composition, “Diving For Quarters,” which began with a wonderful, out-of-time conversation between strings, built around a slow, slinky riff that reminded me of Leroy Jenkins’ “Looking For the Blues” (from Leroy Jenkins Live!) Although Halvorson and Seabrook were on opposite sides of the stage, they established a genuine rapport, bringing very different sounds and ideas to the table.


In the last half dozen years, Halvorson has been as ubiquitous in the Pioneer Valley as any non-local jazz artist. But this was my first time hearing Seabrook live. Give me more. He is one of the world’s leading avant-garde banjoists, and seemed utterly unbridled to any one style or approach. At one point he held a small cassette player to his pick-up, resulting in a series of unique, low-fi electronic effects. He has an avant-rock streak that dovetails nicely with a joie de vivre that lifts all boats. I’m looking forward to his next Jazz Shares visit in September with Ingrid Laubrock’s Quartet.


The two horn players also provided great contrast. Alessi’s full, rounded trumpet sound and Ho Bynum’s skittery cornet blasts were easily distinguished, and made for a complex mix of tart and sweet. Their dynamic put me in mind of a mature, rule-oriented older brother next to his impulsive younger sibling. Their plaintive, dirge-like intersecting on top of roiling drums and guitars on the epic “Love and Protest” was a highlight.


Seated at the back of the stage, the two drummers were hard to spot, but easy to hear. While it was not always possible to discern who was playing what, the resulting rumble provided energy and purpose to the proceedings.


Other than Cleaver, who told me he just sits and listens when the subject comes up, this is a band of basketball fanatics. Thus, “triple double” not only refers to three pairs of instrumentalists, but is a benchmark of basketball excellence: double figures in three categories (most commonly, points, rebounds and assists) in one game. Tomas Fujiwara, the biggest Celtic fan I know, serves as player, coach and general manager of Triple Double. He’s Kyrie Irving, Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge rolled into one. He assembled the crew, gave them their marching orders, and now leads by example from the bandstand. And his ensemble has better chemistry than this edition of the Celts. Not bad for a reluctant bandleader.

Marty Ehrlich, extraordinary reed player, music scholar, storyteller and friend, returned to the Connecticut River Valley on December 16 to perform with his trio at the Blue Room in Easthampton, MA. T

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