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Spring rises from the ground like a spirit full of light and latent pollen. A mountain, laughing, covered in flowers. Yamawarau (山笑う) is the third in a four-part album cycle by Chris Jusell, Chaz Prymek, Matthew Sage, and Patrick Shiroishi… feel free to simply call this group “Fuubutsushi” if you so prefer. What began with their first album, Fuubutsushi, an autumnal ECM jazz suite, led to Setsubun, a warm place to hide from those too-long winter nights. As Spring breaks, the quartet have continued to refine their signature sound, to expand their mutual vocabulary, and to take playful risks together, all while maintaining their social distance.
Prymek’s guitar and bass parts serve as the primary core of this collection; his style balances deeply emotive chords and spry flourishes with unique time signatures and spiraling phase patterns. The structure here is the rich soil, once dormant, coming back to life. In response to these structures, Sage’s percussion expands into multi-tracked and polyrhythmic territory it hasn’t explored before. His piano parts fall to the background, but flourish there, coloring Prymek’s melodies. If Prymek’s structures are the soil, Sage is the roots that tangle, swirl, and hold the album down. Jusell’s violin eddies through the early buds, painting the wind with warmth, light, saturation. Lyrical, dazzling but never showy, pastoral but never campy. Shiroishi does appear with his signature saxophone some, but his vocal presence on several songs, his playful melodica, and his first turn on the guitar, the bossa-nova closer, find him continuing to push the group into new places, like a tree that every year grows into previously unexplored air, atmosphere, currents of wind. This collection feels connected to their previous albums, but also feels different; vocal harmonies appear at the center of several songs, both wordlessly and sung beautifully in Japanese. Though still approximately “jazz” these songs feel more like a kind of campfire circled by the players. They are propulsive in places, meditative in others, often dynamic, but profoundly radiating light.
What has been said before about this quartet remains true: they collectively cultivate a tenderness when playing together. That tenderness comes from patience, from foregrounding a sense of play, from leaving space and from finding joy in the act of creation as a group. Yamawarau is just that, a joy in cultivation, a smile full of new blossoms.