Cuneiform: Thumbscrew – Thumbscrew / Dieses Wochenende für FIVE

„The name of this avant guitar-bass-drums trio might suggest a small object capable of inflicting agonizing pain, but never fear, Thumbscrew take you only a relatively short distance beyond the creative jazz comfort zone. Expect some mild abrasions, but also the sharp focus of skilled improvisers who happen to be fine composers as well.

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 to this, their debut album, 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. Since that time, they have appeared together in a large number of ensembles.

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.



Mary Halvorson – guitar
Michael Formanek – double bass 
Tomas Fujiwara – drums 

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Carl Baugher thumbnail

Carl Baugher 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.

Lawrence Stanley thumbnail

Lawrence Stanley 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…

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