One Track Mind: Thumbscrew [Mary Halvorson / Michael Formanek / Tomas Fujiwara], “Cheap Knock Off” (2014)

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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 Tomas Fujiwara (drums), Mary Halvorson (electric guitar) and Michael Formanek (acoustic bass) are just too aware of the potential of this supertrio to let that happen. Formanek spoke to this cooperative spirit when he recounted that “one of the things we said at the beginning is let’s just write music for Thumbscrew and it will only be Thumbscrew music.”

Sure enough, that’s the impression left from the advance stream from their eponymous CD out today from Cuneiform Records. Considerable talents are applied to the common good on “Cheap Knock Off,” a band-composed piece where everyone dominates and yet no one overpowers the others.

The first thing that comes into focus is Formanek’s mood-defining notes that sets the wide parameters of the song, along with Fujiwara’s calibrated cymbal work. Halvorson soon enters the picture but bides her time and gets settled in before asserting control.

Right at the two-and-a-half minute mark, Formanek and Halvorson suddenly converge on a craggy riff that nudges the song into a harder, rocking direction, and it’s that twisting figure that they soon revisit to bring the song to rekindle the momentum. Just when other bands might get harder and louder, the three engage in acrobatic twists of the melody that involve nearly telepathic three-way unison to execute.

Going off of admittedly just one song, Thumbscrew promises to be one of those “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” kind of album. But even if the whole is merely equal, this should be a worthy pickup for any fan of improvised music. Just consider the source(s).

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Visit Thumbscrew on Facebook. Feature photo credit: Peter_Gannushkin.

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