This album demonstrates the creative viability of a trio closely attuned to each other's strengths and talents. The compositions are varied and the improvisations are strong and inventive. The music sounds grounded yet fresh and surprising. Excellent.
I long thought of Mary Halvorson as an 'anti-guitarist' (which is not an insult by any means) with her de-tunings and spiky single note 'runs.' Until this album. In this power trio with Michael Formanek and Tomas Fujiwara, her playing sounds more muscular and flowing, perhaps due to the tightness of the compositions...
Thumbscrew, a band consisting of three well-established leaders on the new jazz/new music scene, make inviting music full of wonder and discovery. With their eponymous debut album, they document the group's commitment to new music created specifically for this ensemble.
While Michael Formanek (double bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums) and Mary Halvorson (guitar) are all known for their prodigious capabilities as improvisers, Thumbscrew is more of a composer’s vehicle. While many cooperative bands draw on material recycled from other projects, "One of the things we said at the beginning is let’s just write music for Thumbscrew and it will only be Thumbscrew music," says Formanek. "It really is a three-composer trio, and all of our tunes have our basic aesthetics attached. But we want everybody to have input. Nobody’s afraid to make a decision. It’s one of the first co-ops I’ve been in where everyone’s really willing to take control at any given moment."
With each musician contributing three tunes, the album encompasses an array of textures and strategies, while maintaining a consistently open and transparent sound. Generating tremendous intensity without necessarily increasingly volume or density, Thumbscrew buzzes and crackles, burns and croons. The group is both open and composerly. Part of what makes the band’s music so engaging is that they draw widely and deeply from any number of sonic sources.
Part of the trio’s strength flows from the deep interconnecting bonds they’ve forged. Halvorson and Fujiwara first started playing together in cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum’s Sextet. They also work together in the collective quartet Reverse Blue with Chris Speed and Eivind Opsvik, and Mike Reed’s fascinating Sun Ra-inspired ensemble Living By Lanterns.
They first worked with Formanek when he subbed in Bynum’s band in 2011, and the chemistry between the three was so readily apparent they immediately started looking into performance opportunities as a trio. This fine, distinctive effort is the result of 2 years of planning, rehearsing and gigging.
released January 21, 2014
Mary Halvorson - guitar
Michael Formanek - double bass
Tomas Fujiwara - drums
Recorded on April 7, 2013 at The Bunker, Brooklyn, NY.
Recorded and mixed by Jon Rosenberg.
Produced by Thumbscrew.
Photo of Thumbscrew by Peter Gannushkin (www.downtownmusic.net).
Original artwork by Warren Linn.
Package design by Bill Ellsworth.
Michael Formanek appears courtesy of ECM Records.
Thumbscrew would like to thank Jon Rosenberg, Warren Linn, Kevin Whitehead, Kevin Reilly, and Steve Feigenbaum.
Mary Halvorson's compositions make my head spin. As is so often the case with her work, here, she continues to twist and subvert conventional notions of melody and modality.
Her own playing is astonishingly deft, and the arrangements complex and inventive.
But there is a warmth here, too; a playful of spirit, a restlessness to continue to change and connect in new ways.
Halvorson isn't just a jazz innovator, she's fast becoming one of of the giants of new music. Michael Mueller