Tomas Fujiwara, Ben Goldberg + Mary Halvorson – The Out Louds (2016)

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The Out Louds aren’t always necessarily loud, but they are sure enough ‘out’, which is what is to be expected whenever Tomas Fujiwara, Ben Goldberg and Mary Halvorson are placed in improvisational situations. They’ve pooled their talents together into a supergroup of spontaneity and on April 8, 2016, Relative Pitch Records put out a collection of their performances that took form as they were recording them.

Named after flowers found at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, these songs likewise enjoy a fragile existence , only in the moment in which they’re played, and the participants take this mindset to heart. Therein lies the unique nature of their music: it might be deconstructed more than it is constructed, but it’s not random noises, either. A lot of contemplation goes into every move and moreover, they move together. Though the music is greatly instinctual, the thought of what springs forth from their minds before they even carry out those thoughts through their instruments becomes more important than the instruments themselves. So while Fujiwara, Goldberg and Halvorson are widely (and rightly) regarded as virtuosos on drums, clarinet and guitar, respectively, the insight and ingenuity get top emphasis over the chops.

“Starry/False” show how these three are such masters of creating tonal shapes, not just technical proficiency, especially evident in Halvorson’s wavy guitar tones with Fujiwara ever so subtly modulating the psyche of the song. Even on songs with more spaces than notes such as “Pink Home Run,” they’re creating certain moods over desolate terrain. Here, Goldberg is quietly contemplative as Halvorson strums almost imperceptibly before gently taking the lead as Fujiwara tepidly enters and goes about establishing a rhythmic flow without any fuss.

“Preference” comes right after that, and Halvorson’s fuzz tone sends notice that this one isn’t going to be so hushed. But it’s actually Fujiwara who is pushing the hardest, and Goldberg finds his own space within this acerbic mood, balancing out the other two with his liquid, cascading lines even when Halvorson lets loose a metal wall of distortion. “Old Blush” is relatively brief but full of telepathy; Fujiwara seems to playing drums with Halvorson’s personality…or is it, Halvorson is playing guitar like Fujiwara might? Regardless, Goldberg seems to know exactly what’s coming next as they reel off a dense sequence of notes and beats in unison.

The risk in making improv music together is locking into a repetitive groove, often a sure sign you’re stuck and not sure what to do next. These three avoid that conundrum by blowing things up mid-song and regrouping. “False Goat’s-Beard,” as an example, starts with pretty, spectral resonance from Halvorson’s guitar dovetailing with Goldberg’s flute-like notes. Fujiwara enters, altering the projectory of the song, but just as the trio begins to settle into a pattern Halvorson blasts out her signature note bending, signaling a breakdown and reassembling around Fujiwara’s deft brushes.

Though lasting only ninety-five seconds, the coda “Pink Double Knock Out” is the prettiest moment of the album. They grasp how the brief passages can be just as emotionally impactful as the protracted ones.

Tomas Fujiwara, Ben Goldberg and Mary Halvorson are prime musicians who find a lot of common ground because place greater value on the artistic output way ahead of the dexterity needed to produce it. Just as Halvorson’s brilliant Meltframe from last year sprung from one fertile mind, so does The Out Louds. Only this time it’s a mind shared by three people.

feature photo: Reuben Radding

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