As far as I can tell, Night Waves is Yuko Fujiyama’s third disc as a quartet leader. The quartet consists of Fujiyama on piano, Jennifer Choi on violin, Graham Haynes on cornet and flugelhorn, and Susie Ibarra on drums and percussion. Each player brings something special to what I assume are “composed improvisations” rather than traditionally structured songs—Fujiyama with her strong harmonic sense and silky sound, Choi (also a well-known concert music violinist) with her ability to spin out sustained melodies, Haynes with his smokily expressive lower register, and Ibarra with her command of percussion sound, whether in service to a beat or as musical color.
The 15 tracks on Night Wave embody a wide variety of expressive modes, held together by the special qualities and improvisational skills of the players, as well as by Fujiyama’s richly expansive harmonic palette. Of the 15, only three are scored for the full quartet. There are four piano solos, and the rest of the pieces are duos and trios, with the piano the only constant.
The opening track, “Woven Colors,” lays out the musical terrain that characterizes the entire album. The harmonic and melodic richness mentioned above is expressed in terms of arpeggios, melodies, and chords exploring expanded tonalities where any time spent securely in a specific harmonic area is fleeting at best. The rhythmic style is built around underlying pulses that sometimes coalesce into meters, but usually not for long. Phrase lengths are free and in constant flux.
Some of the numbers are short, impressionistic hints at longer stretches of music, almost as if the recording is on for just a minute or so of a much longer take. They leave the listener, or at least this listener, wanting more. The longer works on the disc are, to my ears, the most satisfying. “Up Tempo” is just that: nine-and-a-half hard-charging minutes of intense improv, each instrument holding its own, led by Ibarra’s virtuoso hi-hat playing and colorfully expressive drumming.
The title cut, “Night Wave,” is an eight-minute meditation for piano/violin/drum trio. Its pensive mood and fugitive wisps of melody highlight the musical skills and expressive strengths of each of the musicians. This is a fine disc, worthy of repeated listening. Recommended for those who like their jazz both free and intimate.
Stream Night Wave on Spotify: