Ours by Thumbscrew.
Bandcamp Link: Ours

Thumbscrew is Michael Formanek, Bass; Tomas Fujiwara, drums; Mary Halvorson, guitar.

Formanek is probably best known for his work in the sphere of Tim Berne and from his own ensembles. Fujiwara and Halvorson have spent time in the circles of Anthony Braxton’s recent ensembles.

Halvorson’s work is often prickly and angular, trad jazz folks complain it doesn’t “swing” or “rock”. She plays with largely dry tone on a big hollow body that is almost as tall as she is. Her main thing seems to be balancing between electric sound of the amplified guitar, the acoustic sound of the plucked guitar strings, and discreet use of a looper/delay.

Formanek is a very melodic and flexible bass player, despite his involvement in Berne’s often full contact ensembles. I feel it is his often bowed sound that is the heart of this ensemble.

Fujiwara, I would describe as a lithe and nimble drummer, one second he is playing swing time, the next he is tick-tacking along as if he were playing percussion in an orchestra, the next he is dragging the surprising sounds out if his kit, and the next he is playing a rock beat.

Anyway, for musicians who have spent a lot of time playing “difficult” music and who play in an ensemble called “thumbscrew”, this is a very accessible and pleasant album. Even lyrical in places! No one will mistake it for a Jim Hall or John McLaughlin trio, but there is a lot of variety here and a surprising amount of swinging and rocking.

It seems like the ensemble is very democratic, with three songs composed by each member. Certainly, everyone is pulling their weight. My favorite tunes are probably “Smoketree”, “Cruel Heartless Bastards”, and “Words That Rhyme With Spangle (angle bangle dangle jangle mangel mangle strangle tangle wangle wrangle)”. I even picked one tune from each member without knowing beforehand who had written them!

They are all at the top of their game.

#Thumbscrew #Ours #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #MichaelFormanek #TomasFujiwara #MaryHalvorson

Code Girl

Code Girl by Mary Halvorson.

Code Girl is a new album from Mary Halvorson and a sort of expanded version of her trio, Thumbscrew. Thumbscrew is normally Halvorson on guitar, Michael Formanek, Bass, and Tomas Fujiwara, drums. Code Girl adds vocalist Amirtha Kidambi and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire.

Halvorson wrote the lyrics herself and they are somehow mundane while at the same quite poetic and cryptic. I couldn’t really tell you what any single song is exactly about, yet the feelings they evoke seem familiar and resonant.

The music feels like a mixture of structure and improvisation within that structure. Well, perhaps a bit more structure than improvisation.

My first point of comparison was the harmonic and rhythmic structures of Henry Cow and related bands. The music is quite busy, with many chord changes, harmonies, and lots of a certain cadence of rhythm that remind me of Henry Cow. Semi-martial, yet loose limbed at the same time.

Some have compared the Ms Kidambi’s vocals with those of Steve Lacy’s vocalist Irene Aebi. That sort of gives you an idea that her delivery is dramatic and poetic and her voice not “conventionally beautiful”. Like Aebi, Kidambi does spend a lot of time on flat mid-western sounding vowels and is an alto or contra-alto. I think the delivery matches the material and Ms Kidambi is not afraid to whip out her Jazz vocalist chops on songs like “The Unexpected Natural Phenomenon”. In any case, there’s a lot of material here to digest, a double CD. Many moods, and a lot of music. I’ve been enjoying digging in to it and I hope you will take the time as well.

#TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #AmirthaKidambi #AmbroseAkinmusire #MaryHalvorson #MichaelFormanek #TomasFujiwara #Aizoaceae #CarpobrotusEdulis

Triple Double

Triple Double by Tomas Fujiwara.
Bandcamp Link: Triple Double
Two Drummers, Tomas Fujiwara and Gerald Cleaver; Two Guitarists, Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook; Two Brass, Taylor Ho Bynum and Ralph Alessi. Triple Double.

I wasn’t sure where this album would fall. Most of these musicians have spent some time with Anthony Braxton and many have made some pretty “abstract” music on their own.

However, while it is driving and has some dramatic passages, this is a fairly accessible album, utilizing conventional harmonic and rhythmic structures. Though the lack of keyboards and bass does allow the melodic instruments, (including the guitarists here, as both of them stick to lines rather than chords,) to float over the propulsive rhythms and express themselves in various configurations, duo and solo.

I especially enjoyed “For Alan”, in which Fujiwara incorporates some recordings of someone explaining improvisation to a child.

#TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #TomasFujiwara #GeraldCleaver #MaryHalvorson #BrandonSeabrook #TaylorHoBynum #RalphAlessi #TripleDouble