Tomas Fujiwara | Taylor Ho Bynum | Stepwise | Not Two Records

Not Two, 2010 | MW 828-2 | CD

Taylor Ho Bynum – cornet | Tomas Fujiwara – drums

Recorded May 11, 2009. Engineered and mixed by Jeremy Wilms, ITS The Sound Studio, Brooklyn, NY. Mastered by Nick Lloyd. Liner notes by Nate Wooley. Produced by Tomas Fujiwara and Taylor Ho Bynum. Graphic design by Marek Wajda. Photos by Amy Touchette.

Tracklist: 1. 3D (1:07) 2. Keys No Address (4:28) 3. Stepwise (6:44) 4. Two Abbeys (0:41) 5. Comfort (5:12) 6. Weather Conditions May Vary (2:21) 7. Iris (3:47) 8. Splits (10:08) 9. Detritus (1:54) 10. B.C. (6:40)

On a spring day in 1997

I laid on a threadbare rug in an old Geary Street apartment in San Francisco. I had spent the day maniacally rushing around the city with my (very patient) friend to find a specific CD that had not yet come to Oregon, where I was living at the time. As my friend took a nap after all her driving, I stretched out in the sun and put on headphones : to listen. The name of the CD doesn’t matter for our purposes here, but what I heard is exactly to the point. It was pure, unadulterated joy. Big deal, right? We are constantly attacked in public by happy music. Joyful music on elevators, in ads for drugs and at the opening of tv shows. But this wasn’t just happy music; this was music that was nothing but joy, and there is a very big difference. This music I was hearing on that spring day wasn’t trying to represent joy. It wasn’t the kind of music that you want to dance to, or that gives you a warm sense of simpler times. This was a grouping of timbres, melodies, harmonies, and rhythms, played by a group of musicians, which summed up completely and wholly embodied the abstract concept of joy. It was in that moment, listening to that music as a young trumpet  player, deciding whether or not to continue, that I saw a series of new paths open for me in my life.

Fast forward 12 years…..the scene couldn’t be more different. It is 2 am and I am sitting in a cold kitchen in Krakow, Poland. I am alone. I am exhausted from traveling and all of my band mates are either passed out from a long night at Club Alchemia, or have yet to come back to the apartment. I can’t sleep, so I put on the record you are about to hear, hoping to get some work done. No, the backdrop couldn’t be more different, but the effect of this duo’s music is exactly the same to me as it was with that nameless record 12 years ago; the record that opened all those new paths.

I’m not a person that enjoys hyperbole. I also have a (probably unhealthy) distrust of most media designed to sell products in general. I say this so you know that the words that follow have not been written because I am expected to write them to get you excited about this recording, but because I truly mean them.

As I sit and listen to Tomas and Taylor, I am smiling so hard that tears are coming to my eyes. The joy expressed on this recording, just by two people, is something truly special. I had expected to be impressed. Maybe even blown away. Taylor Ho Bynum and Tomas Fujiwara are two of the best improvisers I have ever been lucky enough to work with. They are some of the leading light; of 21st century American improvisation. What I was hearing now, though, was something altogether more than I had anticipated.

Taylor Ho Bynum

Taylor has been a hero of mine since hearing him play on a Joe Fonda record in the late 90s. I consider Tomas one of the best drummers in New York at a time when New York has no lack of skill and creativity on the instrument. If you have read any amount of the press on either of them, you know their credentials If you have heard the records with Anthony Braxton, Bill Dixon, Thirteenth Assembly, or Ideal Bread, you know how personal and creative their voices are. It is not my intention to reiterate any of that here. Press agents do this job better than I do and the skills of Taylor and Tomas are self evident on recording. My interest in the two of them, the thing that fascinates me about this record and has always excited me about their playing, is how they capture this elusive feeling of joy.

Over the years, I have learned the hard way that this ecstatic, peaceful, loving, warm, inviting way of improvising is almost impossible to achieve. It cannot be learned. It cannot be imitated. It is in our reptilian brain to express our frustration and rage very easily. Maybe it’s part of our fight or flight response, I don’t know. It can be a very satisfying release, and aggressive actions are ubiquitous in our every day lives. Naturally, that makes it a very powerful part of the improviser’s personality, and concurrently their musical output. However, it is very hard to spontaneously and sincerely burst with joy and warmth. Think of the last time you saw someone truly treat another human being with kindness and empathy. It happens, of course, but weigh that against how many acts of cruelty and indifference you may see on a given day. I can count all of the people I have known that have truly and consistently exuded a peaceful and joyful countenance on one hand. All this goes to say that as natural as it is for us to express rage and fear, it takes an equal amount of work to project joy and serenity (in any form, music being of course the topic of this writing). This is a very long digression to explain how incredibly special it is to find a recording like this that expresses that joy from the first sound to the last.

Tomas Fujiwara

I have listened to this three times tonight. The sun is coming up and I have the energy to make one final point. Thank you for bearing with me. By opening up this disc, by deciding to listen to it, you have made an agreement with two other parties. I’d like to outline that agreement. First, the good people of NotTwo have agreed to release this document, as they have done with so many others in the past. The fact that you are reading these slightly verbose liner notes right now proves that they have fulfilled this condition.

Tomas and Taylor have agreed to spend their lives practicing and creating. They have agreed to make the best and most personal music they can. You will hear that in a moment. I have doubts that you could argue that they haven’t kept up their end of the bargain.

And now, we come to the responsibility of the consumer, the listener, the interpretant… you. What will your level of responsibility to this agreement be? It doesn’t have to be much, but I ask this; For the first listening, sit down somewhere quiet and expect to stay there for a while. Put on this recording and listen to it from beginning to end. Don’t get up.. .don’t answer the phone, just listen. Take in Taylor’s way of turning his comet into a voice.. ..not a scream, or a whimper, but a joyous chatter about serious and non-serious topics. Let yourself fall in sync with skeletal grooves from Tomas’ drum kit that play less like a beat or a wash of percussive sound and more like a bubbling, babbling counterpoint. Don’t make comparisons. Leave the urge to contextualize this music within the history of jazz for later, just let this one listening happen in real time. Smile until the tears come. You deserve it. — Nate Wooley, Fall 2009

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One thought on “Tomas Fujiwara | Taylor Ho Bynum | Stepwise | Not Two Records

  1. Taylor Ho Bynum is one of the most inventive and exciting trumpeters of his generation. Well known for his association with such seminal figures as Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor and Bill Dixon, he is also building a substantial body of work in his own right. Stepwise is his second duet with drummer and longtime ally Tomas Fujiwara, after True Events (482 Music, 2007), which made several best of year lists.

    This time out there four compositions, two from the, that are placed together with six jointly improvised cuts in a 43-minute studio date. Both men resist the temptation to overplay inherent in a duo session, and their interplay is spare and focused. Fujiwara has absorbed some of the influence of master percussionist Ed Blackwell in his melodic approach to the drums. Nowhere is this more apparent than on his own pleasingly simple “Keys No Address,” where he also demarcates the tune alongside Bynum’s puckish cornet, as well as soloing thematically when his turn comes. Bynum is a virtuoso, effortlessly incorporating extended technique into musical discourse. On the title track he inexorably builds tension with a judicious combination of high squeals and muted wah-wah growls, before effectively partaking of a call and response with himself in the opposing registers of his horn. Later on the introduction to his “Iris” he casually deploys a perky vocalized upper register and multiphonic buzz, before a melodic line which oscillates jauntily above Native American drum cadences.

    Even with the sparse instrumentation, every piece convinces as complete in itself. “3D” acts as an introductory taster for the fluid dialogue to come: Bynum’s careening brass briefly slithering above measured tumbling toms until the fade out. “Comfort” has a lilting melancholic cornet melody cycled over a steady mid tempo rhythm. Bynum’s repetitions allow the focus to shift to Fujiwara’s subtly varied extemporizations. “Two Abbeys” is another fragment of yelping horn and a loose cowbell pattern, while the longest cut “Splits” matches skittering cornet with tap-laden free drum accents in a more conversational give and take. But even here the sense of purpose, structure and rapport generated by these two young pretenders, becoming old hands, captivates and delights.

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