“Thumbscrew is a very exciting group that highlights intricate and emotionally-driven compositions focused on intense interactions between instruments. One of the most exciting bands currently playing” — Cisco Bradley, jazzrightnow.com
The trio Thumbscrew came about by accident, after bassist Michael Formanek subbed in a band including guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. Something special happened among them right away, so they formed a trio, a co-operative in the truest sense. They play originals by all hands, compositions whose rhythms may surge or lag or veer sideways according to their own internal logic. Bass and drums solo within the ensemble, not in quarantine. No one needs to be loudest. The blend is tight: one string (or metal) sound may bleed into another. It’s something to hear—something twisty and turny and always on the move.
Ours Releases June 8, 2018
Ours, as its namesake suggests, is an album of original compositions with Fujiwara, Formanek and Halvorson contributing three works apiece. Opening with Halvorson’s striking “Snarling Joys,” Ours begins with delicate (and ever so slightly warped) ensemble figures that very naturally develop into an urgent and tense thrill-ride of a track, with a brilliant bass solo from Formanek. Fujiwara’s “Saturn Way” shows the ensemble bouncing off of each other’s rhythmic framework with Fujiwara anchoring the group through a pummeling rolling tom figure that slowly descends into a spacious and attentive group improvisation. Later, on Formanek’s punk-thru-the-wormhole style “Cruel Heartless Bastards” the ensemble shifts metric pulse in total lockstep on the turn of a dime while a teasing 4/4 figure creates a sense of gravity for the entire composition. Halvorson takes the track to the stratosphere with a dizzying guitar pedal laden solo after the group snakes their way through Formanek’s labyrinth.
On the contrast between the two records, Halvorson says, “The approach to presenting a unique and personal take on a composition is the same whether it’s one of Ours or one of Theirs.”
Theirs Releases June 8, 2018
Theirs features covers penned by venerable composers, from North American jazz legends Benny Golson and Wayne Shorter, to South American composers Julio De Caro (Argentina) and Jacob Do Bandolim (Brazil), to songwriter Evelyn Danzig and Dutch avant-gardist Misha Mengelberg. Thumbscrew covers considerable ground in bringing their unique arrangements and ensemble sensibility to this transfixing set of other composers’ music. On the selection of covers, Fujiwara says, “Each of us brought in a number of covers--more than double what we ended up releasing--that we were curious for Thumbscrew to try. We played through each composition many times, trying different arrangements, and slowly started to focus in on which ones felt right for the group.” Formanek states that “for me it was mostly a matter of which tunes I thought would have strong enough bones to sustain a Thumbscrew interpretation. It was also a matter of imagining how certain pieces would work with Mary, Tomas, and my approaches that wouldn’t sound like just another version.”
On the contrast between the two records, Halvorson says, “The difference is that with the covers we’re aware of trying to honor the composer’s vision, and in many cases, classic versions of the song which serve as inspirations.”