Thumbscrew | Constellation | Jazz | Chicago Reader

Thumbscrew Member Picks 18+ Soundboard Recommended Image

When: Sat., Sept. 13, 9:30 p.m. 2014

On its self-titled debut, released by Cuneiform earlier this year, improvising trio Thumbscrew achieves a remarkable balance, its tightly knotted figures and puzzle-piece constructions remaining surprisingly lucid. The group is a leaderless collective, consisting of guitarist Mary Halvorson, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara (agile, omnivorous New Yorkers who also work together in many other contexts) as well as veteran Baltimore-based bassist Michael Formanek, who has a dark, woody tone and an ear for zigzagging shapes that he perfected in Bloodcount with saxophonist Tim Berne in the 90s. Each musician contributes three pieces to the album, but their transparent arrangements don’t spotlight their respective authors—instead the music’s constantly shifting focus creates an ensemble aesthetic. Most of the improvisation is embedded within sturdy forms, alternately asymmetric and foursquare, and each player either deviates from the script—with asides, displacements, or scrabbly blurts—or closely follows notations that change from bar to bar. Halvorson tends to stand out due to her electrified sound—her lyric, slaloming passages lurch between clean-toned liquidity and grimy coagulation—but Formanek and Fujiwara are equally active and inventive. Best of all, because the three of them respond to one another on the fly, they move and morph as a unit. —Peter Margasak

Price: $12