Thumbscrew demonstrates their unique collective musical vision in contrasting but complementary ways on two exciting new CDs. Ours and Theirs are the first to be released on a newly revamped Cuneiform Records, just returning from a hiatus. Comprised of longtime collaborators Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara, and Mary Halvorson, Thumbscrew is a true collaborative effort with all three members contributing at an equal rate both in terms of composition and improvisation.
Born out of a residency at Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum where Thumbscrew created their striking second album Convallaria, Ours and Theirs showcase Thumbscrew in two different contexts performing all originals on Ours and all covers on Theirs. Both albums present a meticulous and intuitive original sound that could only be crafted during focused and intensive time as a collective in a place like City of Asylum. “When we arrived at City of Asylum for our second residency in June 2017, we immediately said, ’we’re home!’” says Fujiwara, “The feelings we get when being at City of Asylum, around the people that make it such a unique place doing great work...All of this contributes to a creative process that’s open and inclusive and experimental.”
Tomas, Michael, and Mary are no strangers to each other’s work, having performed in a multitude of projects together, including Michael Formanek’s Ensemble Kolossus, Tomas Fujiwara and the Hook Up’s After All is Said, and most recently, in Mary Halvorson’s critically-acclaimed Code Girl.
Ours, as its namesake suggests, is an album of original compositions with Fujiwara, Formanek and Halvorson contributing three works apiece. Opening with Halvorson’s striking “Snarling Joys,” Ours begins with delicate (and ever so slightly warped) ensemble figures that very naturally develop into an urgent and tense thrill-ride of a track, with a brilliant bass solo from Formanek. Fujiwara’s “Saturn Way” shows the ensemble bouncing off of each other’s rhythmic framework with Fujiwara anchoring the group through a pummeling rolling tom figure that slowly descends into a spacious and attentive group improvisation. Later, on Formanek’s punk-thru-the-wormhole style “Cruel Heartless Bastards” the ensemble shifts metric pulse in total lockstep on the turn of a dime while a teasing 4/4 figure creates a sense of gravity for the entire composition. Halvorson takes the track to the stratosphere with a dizzying guitar pedal laden solo after the group snakes their way through Formanek’s labyrinth.
On the contrast between the two records, Halvorson says, “The approach to presenting a unique and personal take on a composition is the same whether it’s one of Ours or one of Theirs.”
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