Sunday, June 17, 2018

Thumbscrew - Theirs (Cuneiform, 2018)

This is the second album released this spring by the excellent modern jazz trio Thumbscrew. The band is made up of Tomas Fujiwara on drums, Mary Halvorson on electric guitar and Michael Formanek on acoustic bass, and this is a collection that covers the works of other composers while the other album Ours, consisted of original works. They begin the album with the song “Stablemates” by Benny Golson, nodding to the funky hard bop roots of the original version, while adding sky accents of soaring guitar to the crisp and gently grooving rhythm. “Benzihno” by Brazilian composer Jacob Do Bandolim is a sharper edged uptempo performance, where the band is able to take the source material and make their own statement, molding it like clay into a powerful collective improvisation. Herbie Nichols was sadly ignored during his lifetime, but generations of jazz musicians have been enthralled by his his distinctive compositions and piano playing. The band takes his “House Party Starting” to new heights with a lengthy exploration of the song and its possibilities, loosening the strings that tie it to the jazz orthodoxy and building a free ranging improvisation, one that allows there to be solos and mighty trio improvisation complete with colorful guitar playing, firm bass playing and brisk and decisive drumming. Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks" is a fine feature for guitarist Mary Halvorson, and she makes the most of it by demonstrating her unique approach to the instrument, one that is never flashy, yet uses notes and chords in a way that is unexpected, throwing off sparks while hewing to the underlying rhythmic construct of the performance. The choice of Wayne Shorter's composition "Dance Cadaverous" is an inspired one, since the mysterious, open ended nature of Shorter's writing suits the band very well. Without being deliberately enigmatic, the music stays fluid and conforms no fixed shape, bending to external ideas that the band members bring to the performance. Halvorson's guitar sneaks through the undergrowth and then emits qualls of neon tinted notes in the midst of tumbling percussion and taut bass playing. "Weer is een dag voorbij" by Misha Mengelberg is a perfect closer for this album, and they nod to the composer's impish sense of humor with a enlivening and decisive performance that is especially pleasing and attractive in the manner of playing that focuses on band unity and togetherness. The music of Thumbscrew is powerful and particularly interesting, as they have delineated their own personal sound, one that can approach an album of covers while maintaining their identity and delivering a remarkable performance. Theirs -

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