11 Songs, 1 Hour, 12 Minutes


About Thumbscrew

A guitar-bass-drums trio on the avant edge of creative jazz, Thumbscrew is a true collaborative unit, featuring veteran bassist Michael Formanek and two musicians who have been making considerable waves on the Brooklyn scene during the new millennium, guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara.

ECM recording artist Formanek has the lengthiest jazz experience of the three, appearing as a sideman during the '80s and debuting as a leader with the 1990 Enja label release Wide Open Spaces before linking up with saxophonist Tim Berne in a musical partnership -- notably including Berne's Bloodcount band -- that would extend through much of the '90s. Continuing to lead or collaborate in various New York-based creative jazz ensembles as the decade neared its end, Formanek began to tire of life on the road and its impact on his creativity, and in 2003 he moved to the Baltimore area with his family to teach bass and jazz history and lead the jazz orchestra at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University. However, vanishing into the world of academia was not in his game plan, as he worked to establish links between Peabody and the Baltimore jazz community, continued performing and recording in various settings, and by the 2010s had issued two acclaimed albums as a leader on ECM, 2010's The Rub and Spare Change and 2012's Small Places (both quartet dates featuring Berne, pianist Craig Taborn, and drummer Gerald Cleaver). Given Formanek's continued connections in the Brooklyn- and greater East Coast-based creative jazz world, crossing paths with comparative newcomers Halvorson and Fujiwara was probably inevitable.

Boston-born guitarist Halvorson studied with Anthony Braxton for several years at Wesleyan University (and has performed and recorded in several Braxton ensembles); after graduating she ensconced herself in the Brooklyn scene in the early 2000s, gradually gaining a reputation for her inimitable electric guitar style. After appearing on recordings by various groups including cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum's sextet, a duo with violist Jessica Pavone, bassist Trevor Dunn's Trio-Convulsant, and the avant rock outfit People with drummer Kevin Shea, the guitarist stepped out as leader of the Mary Halvorson Trio, with bassist John Hébert and drummer Ches Smith, on Dragon's Head, a 2008 release on the New Haven, Connecticut-based Firehouse 12 label (co-founded by Bynum). The guitarist led several more sessions over the following years, resulting in the Mary Halvorson Quintet recordings Saturn Sings in 2010 and Bending Bridges in 2012 (both on Firehouse 12) and another trio album, Ghost Loop, on For Tune Records in 2013. As a bandleader, collaborator, or contributor, Halvorson appeared on over 50 recordings by the time she co-founded Thumbscrew with Formanek and Fujiwara.

Also born in Boston, drummer Fujiwara, a New York resident from the age of 17, began appearing on record in the mid-2000s and, like Halvorson, is a member of the Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet; the drummer and guitarist can be heard together on the sextet's albums The Middle Picture (Firehouse 12, 2007), Asphalt Flowers Forking Paths (hatOLOGY, 2009), Apparent Distance (Firehouse 12, 2011), and Navigation (Possibility Abstracts X & XI) (Firehouse 12, 2013). Among his many other projects, Fujiwara has recorded in a duo with Bynum; in the collective quartet Thirteenth Assembly with Halvorson, Bynum, and Pavone; in the experimental Sun Ra-informed Chicago-New York nonet Living by Lanterns (including Halvorson and Bynum); in the "Sun Ra meets Eddie Palmieri" ten-piece Positive Catastrophe led by Bynum and percussionist Abraham Gomez-Delgado; in the Steve Lacy tribute band Ideal Bread; and as the leader of his own quintet, Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up (also featuring Halvorson), which released Actionspeak in 2010 followed by The Air Is Different in 2012 (both on the 482 Music label).

Bandleader and Firehouse 12 co-founder Bynum obviously figures prominently in the performing and recording experiences of Halvorson and Fujiwara -- and in fact, the cornetist served indirectly as a catalyst for the formation of Thumbscrew when Formanek sat in with the Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet during 2011 and the bassist, Halvorson, and Fujiwara found themselves playing together for the first time, albeit as half of a six-piece lineup. The threesome discovered an immediate rapport, and vowed to perform as a trio in the future. Meanwhile, Formanek, Halvorson, and Fujiwara continued to appear as part of larger groupings, when Formanek performed with Halvorson and Fujiwara in the latter's Hook Up quintet, and when Halvorson and Fujiwara played in Formanek's massive (not merely "larger") 18-piece Brooklyn all-star Ensemble Kolossus.

The Thumbscrew trio finally entered Brooklyn's Bunker studio in April 2013 to record their eponymous debut album with engineer Jon Rosenberg. Formanek, Halvorson, and Fujiwara each penned three compositions for Thumbscrew, which was released by the Cuneiform label in January 2014. ~ Dave Lynch



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