Protest music, carried through the streets and bounced off of bodies marching in loose procession, is often about cacophony as much as unification. There is a looseness, a budding improvisation to the beats of spontaneous bursts— an offbeat clap snowballs into a new movement, two separate groups momentarily synchronize with each other and then break apart. The dissonance and variation within a single, nearly autonomous body of protesters holds great weight.
This cohesive, complicated jumble of sounds informs Tomas Fujiwara’s latest project with Triple Double, a sextet of two drummers, two horn players, and two guitarists. Explicitly inspired by protest music, March experiments with unexpected combinations delivered with fervent ingenuity. Different assemblages of instruments stack atop and float around each other throughout the seven tracks, conjoining and drifting apart at odd intervals. One trio begins, another replaces them, both trumpet and cornet wail over a frenetic drumbeat, and occasionally all six wrestle with each other in dazzling harmony or tumultuous intensity.
The opening salvo of “Pack Up, Coming For You” provides a representative scope of the record, as the initial trio of Fujiwara, guitarist Mary Halvorson, and cornet player Taylor Ho Bynum quickly assemble an off-kilter groove that begins to self-combust before the one minute mark. Just as their skittery breakdown reaches its boiling point, the second trio (composed of drummer Gerald Cleaver, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, and trumpeter Ralph Alessi) salvages the wreckage, parsing out a variation on the initial theme. Inevitably, they too break apart in their own way before all six players coalesce into full on bombast.
The rest of the record plays on different iterations of this intriguing foundation. The second half of “Life Only Gets More” finds both drum and guitar duos mingling with impressive quietude, while the aptly titled “Docile Fury Ballad” alternates between at least four different groupings and just as many drastic mood shifts. The sense of impassioned discontent permeates each brief arrangement, as each player fights to be heard— not over each other, but rather as individual voices in a collective ideology fighting for recognition. As avant-garde as Fujiwara’s ensemble becomes, there’s an easily discernible parallel with the national marches for Breonna Taylor and George Floyd that filled the streets of every American city in 2020.
Recorded in December 2019, March predates these fervent community outpourings, yet three years later it remains just as prescient. The bodies that stack the album’s cover topple into each other with a tactile urgency, though it’s hard to determine if they’re fighting, dancing, falling, marching, or maybe a bit of everything. This collage of radical, communal grievance bursts at every corner of the record, as Fujiwara and co. make sense out of the chaos and weaponize it through complex, recurring motifs and resounding moments of tranquility. Closer “For Alan, Pt. 2,” dedicated to Fujiwara’s drum mentor, expands on the latter of these emotions over 17 minutes of two drumkits in thoughtful dialogue. It’s the wind-down after a never-ending climax, a pair walking through the streets clearing out after a long night of fighting to be heard, keeping alight the revolutionary togetherness of a march in everyday moments. (Josh Hughes)