Thumbscrew | Constellation | Jazz | Chicago Reader

Thumbscrew 18+ Early Warnings (Music) Soundboard Recommended Image

When: Sat., June 4, 8:30 p.m. 2016

From their start Thumbscrew have made thorny, tightly coiled, and wonderfully convoluted music, following a logic where lines zig and zag as a rule and rarely hit a straightaway. But for the trio’s brand-new second album, Convallaria (Cuneiform), they’ve pushed things even further, heightening complexity while playing with increased clarity. Guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, and bassist Michael Formanek have worked together regularly in different contexts, but they developed and composed the music for this album during a rare two-week stay in Pittsburgh sponsored by the BNY Mellon Jazz Residency, where they were able to sink deeply into their material—a luxury rarely afforded in a discipline that requires most musicians to keep busy playing in bands where they don’t get to seriously woodshed. Most pieces hurtle through numerous episodes of generous improvisation embroidering tightly wound arrangements, making the album feel through-composed. Named for a spidery flower as lithe as her snaking, needling guitar lines, Halvorson’s “Cleome” opens the record, getting its thrust from a wonderfully knotty, sideways groove sculpted with surprising out-of-sync fluidity by Fujiwara and Formanek. She further mucks things up on the balladlike “Trigger,” her mangled guitar phrases sounding like they’re being played back on a wrinkled piece of recording tape. Elsewhere “Danse Insensé” is a dazzling showcase for the drummer, a gentle abstraction of rumbalike percussion over tangled guitar and bass support. I heard the trio play this material last September at the Guelph Jazz Festival while still in the process of fully internalizing the music—and with a subconscious ease they generated sparks with every twist and gnarled turn. I imagine the ability to spontaneously build upon these dizzying pieces has only magnified with time. Brace yourself.

Peter Margasak

Price: $15, $10 in advance

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