Tues., June 20 "Thumbscrew," 8:00 p.m., PACA, 1505 State St.
Thumbscrew is a musical cooperative featuring Mary Halvorson (guitar), Michael Formanek (bass) & Tomas Fujiwara (drums.
"Made up of three highly distinctive voices in the world of jazz and avant-garde music, Thumbscrew should probably collapse under the weight of its star power, but Fujiwara, Halvorson and Formanek are just too aware of the potential of this supertrio to let that happen."
S. Victor Aaron, Something Else
The barrage of riffs are both epic and melodic, the low end beefy and the percussion massive. Expect nothing less than magic from these three avant purveyors."
The Village Voice
Thumbscrew is a cooperative trio consisting of Mary Halvorson (guitar), Michael Formanek (double bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums). The band's name might conjure a fearsome image, but Thumbscrew makes inviting music full of wonder and discovery from creative catalysts on jazz's adventurous frontiers. "It is neither hierarchical, the way a soloist with accompaniment is, nor anti-hierarchical, the was free improv can be. The balance of governance and acquiescence is in constant flux, governed by a jointly shared sense of responsibility engendered by trust." (Bill Meyer, The Wire) It's a collaboration that works beautifully, producing music greater than the sum of its parts. Thumbscrew is refreshingly original, and works as a strong 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."
Formed in 2011, Thumbscrew released its eponymous debut on Cuneiform Records in 2014, and has toured throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. Featuring three compositions apiece from each of its members, Thumbscrew was recognized as a top 10 release of 2014 by NPR, The Wire, The Jazz Journalists Association, and El Intruso, among others. The trio was voted a Rising Star Band by Downbeat magazine in 2014 and 2015, as well as best new band of 2014 in the El Intruso Critics Poll
In the spring of 2016, Thumbscrew released Convallaria, their second album on Cuneiform records. The 11 new compositions were recorded at the conclusion of a two week residency at City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and pick up where their debut recording left off. Convallaria draws on the experience and growth of the ensemble through a busy touring schedule in 2014, taking advantage of the opportunity to workshop and rehearse ideas over the course of the residency in July 2015, and receiving inspiration from the unique environment of community and art in Pittsburgh's North Side. It is a landmark in creative music, and solidifies Thumbscrew's unique identity as both a composer's and an improviser's trio.
"Completely democratic, both in terms of compositions and in playing, the threesome brings [Halvorson] together with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, perfectly simpatico playmates...The interplay on Thumbscrew is super, and the tunes are suitably germinative. Halvorson.is on such a tear it's hilarious.4 1/2 stars"
"Of course they throw punches-any band with Formanek guiding it through the rocks is going to have a feisty side. But from Halvorson's increasing poise to Fujiwara's deep agility, even the rumble purrs now and again"
-"The Hot Box", Downbeat
"Thumbscrew implies a more intense form of free improvisation that these three could easily deliver, yet, with a few exceptions, this music often relies on subtle interaction, lower volumes and expansive compositions."
Guitarist/composer Mary Halvorson has been called "NYC's least-predictable improviser" (Howard Mandel, City Arts), "the most forward-thinking guitarist working right now" (Lars Gotrich, NPR.org <http://npr.org/> ) and "one of today's most formidable bandleaders" (Francis Davis, Village Voice).
Ms. Halvorson is best known for her longstanding trio, featuring bassist John Hébert and drummer Ches Smith, and more recently for her solo guitar project, Meltframe. She has several other projects as a bandleader including a quintet, septet and octet. Collaborative projects include a chamber-jazz duo with violist Jessica Pavone, the avant-rock band People and the collective ensembles Thumbscrew (with Michael Formanek and Tomas Fujiwara) and Secret Keeper (with Stephan Crump). Ms. Halvorson is also an active member of bands led by Anthony Braxton, Taylor Ho Bynum, Trevor Dunn, Tomas Fujiwara, Ingrid Laubrock, Joe Morris, Tom Rainey, Mike Reed and Marc Ribot, among others.
One marker of bassist Michael Formanek's creativity and versatility is the range of distinguished musicians of several generations he's worked with. While still a teenager in the 1970s he toured with drummer Tony Williams and saxophonist Joe Henderson; starting in the '80s he played long stints with Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Fred Hersch and Freddie Hubbard. The bassist has played a pivotal role on New York's creative jazz scene going back to the '90s when he notably led his own quintet and played in Tim Berne's barnstorming quartet Bloodcount. Nowadays Formanek's in the co-op Thumbscrew with Brooklyn guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara.
Formanek is also a composer and leader of various bands. His principal recording and international touring vehicle is his acclaimed quartet with Tim Berne on alto saxophone, Craig Taborn on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums, which records for ECM; 2010's The Rub and Spare Change and 2012's Small Places both earned coveted five-star raves in Down Beat. Formanek writes, and the quartet plays, compositions of great rhythmic sophistication that unfold in a natural sounding way - challenging music the players make sound like lyrical free expression. His occasional groups include the 18-piece all-star Ensemble Kolossus, roping in many New York improvisers he works with. Ensemble Kolossus recorded their first CD of all Formanek originals for the prestigious ECM label in December of 2014. It will be released in early 2016.
Drummer Tomas Fujiwara "works with rhythm as a pliable substance, solid but ever shifting. He has a way of spreading out the center of a pulse while setting up a rigorous scaffolding of restraint.smartly informed and firmly moored" (Nate Chinen, The New York Times). Tomas currently leads and composes for his quintet, Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up with Jonathan Finlayson, Brian Settles, Mary Halvorson, and Michael Formanek (Actionspeak, The Air is Different, and After All Is Said on 482 Music), the Tomas Fujiwara Trio with Ralph Alessi and Brandon Seabrook (Variable Bets on Relative Pitch Records), and his duo with Taylor Ho Bynum (True Events on 482 Music, Stepwise on Nottwo Records, and the self-released Through Foundation). He is also a member of the Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet, Matana Roberts' Coin Coin, The Tomeka Reid Quartet, Mike Reed's Living by Lanterns, Mary Halvorson's Reverse Blue, and Michael Formanek's Ensemble Kolossus.