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Four-and-a-half decades on from the heyday of mid '60s Blue Note and its toe-tapping forays into the burgeoning jazz avant garde, the notion of music that's both 'inside' and 'outside' is one of the more fruitful areas of exploration within the tradition. Though he's been active in Boston and New York for the better part of a decade, drummer Tomas Fujiwara's debut as a leader comes with Actionspeak (not counting two duet discs with trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum). This quintet, dubbed The Hook Up, also includes guitarist Mary Halvorson, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, tenorman Brian Settles and bassist Danton Boller on seven originals, all composed by the leader.
"The Hunt" begins with a slinky vamp on which Halvorson's alternately-tuned guitar churns, wowing, fluttering and seemingly out of sync with Boller and Fujiwara's meaty groove, though as with much of her work, there's taut logic when her phrases drip with fronting ambiguity. Flinty plucks tumble out in nooks between the frontline's blocks, Finlayson advancing with wispy tiptoes that belie his sense of utter control, as he skirts subtle rhythm shifts laid down by guitar, bass and drums. Halvorson's solo becomes pitch-bent and fuzzy and Settles swoops in and formulates tension with pillar-like phrases amid disconcerting, jumbled screams à la Frank Lowe.
"Should I Do" recalls Andrew Hill in its tightlygrouped, knotty phrases and shaky voicings (though the composer namechecks Nas as the primary inspiration), tenor unfurling in steely commentary on the theme's singsong bunches. It's particularly interesting to hear give-and-take between trumpet and guitar; thin and equally punchy they wheel, twitter and tease as birds. The ensemble segues into a resolute ballad, horns wistful as guitar and rhythm merge and part. "Questions", also in ballad form, exemplifies the inside-outside tightrope walk perfectly. Fujiwara and Boller pick at space and meter in a slow sashay underneath Finlayson's punch and sketch. Actionspeak presents Fujiwara & The Hook Up as a band to keep an ear on.