Tomas Fujiwara’s ‘7 Poets Trio’ Album Reviewed

When one thinks of jazz trios, the combination found on 7 Poets Trio is probably not what comes to mind. Then again, when looking at the members of this trio, each one being a mainstay in the boundary pushing avant-garde jazz scene of New York City, it makes perfect sense. 7 Poets Trio is a riveting collaboration between Patricia Brennan (vibraphone), Tomeka Reid (cello) and Tomas Fujiwara (drums). All of the compositions here, with the exception of “Questions”, were written by Fujiwara exclusively for Reid and Brennan and it definitely shows – the connection among the three musicians is extraordinary.

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The album is made up of four tracks and six compositions, and each song is just as engaging as the last. “Blend / KP” starts things off with a mesmerizing combination of bowed vibraphone and cello as Fujiwara pads the background with delicate brush work. Brennan’s bowing produces a dreamy bell-like tone that clashes extremely well with the harsher quality of Reid’s cello. The vibraphonist’s switch to mallets comes with a change in her demeanor. Brennan more employs active lines that directly interact with Reid’s playing while Fujiwara adds a bit more force to his drumming.

The bandleader leaves the brushes behind for sticks in the second half of “Blend / KP”. His playing gets increasingly more furious throughout a captivating duet with Brennan before the vibraphonist introduces a great new motif. Reid drives the band with heavily plucked chords and Fujiwara acts as the rhythmic anchor, leaving space for Brennan to go into a brilliant solo. Reid follows her with a pizzicato solo, which works as a bit of a preview for “A Realm Distorted / Questions”, a track made up of compositions where the cellist often finds herself plucking instead of bowing.

Tomas Fujiwara’s 7 Poets Trio Live at the 24th Vision Festival

The first part of “A Realm Distorted / Questions” has an almost Monk-like bounce to it. Fujiwara provides a vibrant rhythm as Reid and Brennan shadow one another in the tune’s quirky theme. The combination of the kaleidoscope of sound from Brennan’s cascading runs and the abrasive nature of Reid’s arco creates an early moment of spellbinding artistry. Later on, Reid switches back to pizzicato and the two engage in a pacy abstract duet. The atmosphere of the performance changes completely around the 7:20 minute mark, presumably the beginning of the “Questions” half of the track. Fujiwara returns to brush drumming and gives elegant support for Brennan, who plays the gorgeous and introspective lead melody. Both Brennan and Reid deliver solos with such high quality lyricism that many will end up wanting to press rewind immediately.

The trio continues to dazzle on the last two, notably shorter, songs – “Cruisin’ With Spencer” and “Gentle Soul”. Fujiwara begins the former with a fantastic solo and then settles into a steady groove. He is eventually joined by Reid, whose cello operates how a bass might in a similar trio, and Brennan, who is used as the conduit for a bright enchanting melody. “Gentle Soul” commences surprisingly hectic considering its title, with Reid and Fujiwara rumbling together in seemingly free improvisation. The track eventually settles into a strong Fujiwara-powered rhythm that is sure to make listeners’ heads nod. This, combined with warped vibraphone effects and loops that add a psychedelic element to Brennan’s performance, results in another enthralling performance.

7 Poets Trio is consistently top notch. Even though the music here is composed, each member is given ample space to adventure, and each excursion reveals a deep understanding between them. Although past recordings like the colossal Triple Double will always make fans second guess when ranking Fujiwara’s discography as a bandleader, 7 Poets Trio might be his best work yet.

7 Poets Trio, the new album by drummer Tomas Fujiwara, is out now on Rogue Art.