Thumbscrew - Ours

Label: Cuneiform Records, 2018

Personnel - Mary Halvorson: guitar; Michael Formanek: double bass; Tomas Fujiwara: drums.


Avant-jazz trio Thumbscrew, a collaborative project co-led by guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, augmented their discography with the release of two new complementary if conceptually distinct albums, suitably entitled Ours and Theirs. Following the example of their second album, Convallaria, these sessions were born from a residency at Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum and demonstrate the strong sonic chemistry of musicians who have been regular presences in one another’s bands.

Theirs consists of ten visionary renditions of non-originals, including standards (“East of the Sun”, “The Peacocks”), post-bop sensations (Wayne Shorter’s “Dance Cadaverous”, Herbie Nichols’s “House Party Starting”, Stanley Cowell’s “Effi”), hard-bop classics (Benny Golson’s “Stablemates”), avant-garde numbers (Misha Mengelberg’s “Weer is een dag voorbij”), and even Brazilian (Jacob do Bandolim’s “Benzinho”) and Argentinean (Julio De Caro’s “Buen Amigo”) pieces.

Conversely, Ours exclusively comprises originals, having each artist contributing with three compositions.
Halvorson’s “Snarling Joys” exudes a sonic exoticism brought forth by flamenco-like attacks on the guitar and a thoughtful bass solo over a more temperate texture. There’s depth in the groove, yet, unrelated with the one presented on “Saturn Way”, which thrives with the percussive incantation of Fujiwara, its author, and also impresses through Formanek’s fluttering arco rumination. 
Suffused with lamenting chords, “Smoketree” advances at a medium-slow tempo imposed by a groove in nine. The inventive artistry of Halvorson, the snare drum palpitations of Fujiwara, and the empathic statement of Formanek are prominent. The bassist also delivers on “Unconditional”, a flirtatious tune driven by Fujiwara’s mallet appeal. This composition still sounds intriguing despite carrying a more standardized jazz phrasing and harmonization.

Formanek’s “Cruel Heartless Bastards” goes back and forth in tempo, jolting with changed-up rhythms and textures. Although rhythmically complex, the piece encloses rock-driven passages outlined with power chords, robust bass pumps, and effusive drumming that bear some resemblance with Pixies or The Fall, even if not so rough on the surface. Its energy has less to do with the groovy march of “Thumbprint”, but gets closer to “Words That Rhyme With Spangle”, a post-rock piece that cracks out dynamic kinetics, morphing into a jumbled amalgam of speckled drum chops, unfettered bass, electronic seizures, and revolutionary guitar spins.

An advanced post-bop harmonization affiliates with sharp melodic angularity to fabricate “Rising Snow”, which finds a sensitive equilibrium between the raw strokes of the pulse and the atmospheric velvety of the guitar.

The experimental sounds of Thumbscrew evolve with large amounts of imagination and boldness not to disappoint you. Whether playing originals or covers, their rhythmic deconstructionism and eccentric melodic conductivity make you dabble in this luxurious sonic bubble bath for the ears.

       Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Cruel Heartless Bastards ► 04 - Smoketree ► 08 - Words That Rhyme With Spangle