This weekend St. Louis was dealing with flooding and constant downpour, but for New Music Circle the show must go on. The final performance of the season before the showcase in May featured Tomas Fujiwara and the Hookup all the way from New York City. The five piece ensemble is composed of Tomas Fujiwara (Drums), Jonathan Finlayson (Trumpet), Brian Settles (Tenor Sax/Flute), Mary Halvorson (Guitar), and Adam Hopkins (Bass). Tomas and Mary are not only frequent collaborators, but veterans of New Music Circle, having performed at Joe’s Café in 2014 as a part of the trio Thumbscrew.
Tomas is the mastermind behind the group’s compositions and formed the Hook Up in 2008 bringing together what he calls “some of the most important musicians in my life.” Fujiwara’s beginnings included almost a decade of studies under drummer Alan Dawson as well as five years performing with an off-Broadway production of STOMP. It is only natural that an artist who first performed on purely non-conventional instruments would grow to fully explore the art of percussion and the limits of his medium.
The show began with a track titled Lineage, the opening track from their 2012 album “The Air is Different”. What begins as a rather structured and airy composition quickly turns into burst of rhythm and sound. Finlayson’s trumpet plays brightly almost working as a melody throughout for the rest of the group to play within. Halvorson moves seamlessly between traditional rhythms and a thrashing discord that pushes the limit of her guitar. She uses various effect pedals to help tune her sound to fit each moment with a natural ease.
While Settles hung back for most of the opening track, he soon moved to center stage for a lovely and quite ambient solo backed by the muted ramblings of Fujiwara’s percussion. Like all of Fujiwara’s compositions the song ends with a full circle back to the opening.
Throughout the night they played various tracks from their three studio albums including Solar Wind off of their 2015 album “After All Is Said”. The song includes a show stopping horn performance by Finlayson and is one of the more emotional tracks of the evening. Overall Fujiwara’s compositions evoke a certain sense of pain and anguish that is often softened with joyful musings.
One of the brightest components of the performance is Mary Halvorson’s performance on the guitar. What is unique about Halverson is as she plays she mixes traditional techniques with her unique live production methods to perfectly evoke the proper emotion. She is not true to any genre often mixing tropical sounds with Spanish guitar or even sounds that bridge on alternative rock. The addition of Mary to the Hook Up takes them from a true form jazz ensemble to a genre bending experimental collaboration.
If Mary is the bright overtone, Hopkins is the deep and guttural underworking. Adam plays with his entire body involved in the process, often leaning in to his upright bass pouring out haunting emotion. While sometimes he simply adds structure to the compositions, he also pulls in the listener with mesmerizing moments of intense performance, often busting a string or two in the process. He switched between plucking and utilizing a bow, sometimes throwing it on the stage mid performance too in the zone to miss a beat.
Fujiwara’s compositions take care to display the capabilities of each musician in the group. While some moments feel like the climactic theme of a film score, others break into freeform expressions that explore the avant-garde. A single song may begin harmonious and full bodied, but break to an intermission where the root melody fades away and leads to a streamlined solo or duet involving various members.
Fujiwara does not choose to stand out as the star of the group, but rather creates a soundscape of percussion that ebbs and flows throughout the production. His performance leads the way allowing the other members to build upon his rhythms and break the musical tension. It is no doubt that Tomas Fujiwara has mastered the art of the slow build, seamlessly blending tempos and melodies into a multilayered composition that goes well beyond the expected.
New Music Circle will return this month on May 13 at the William A Kerr Foundation for their season ending showcase. The night will include performances by Robert Beatty, Matchess, Hylidae, and Nadie Smith-Biggie. There will also be local DJs and visual art installations throughout the night. Find out more at:
More photos from the evening’s performance: