Friday, January 01, 2021

Thumbscrew - The Anthony Braxton Project (Cuneiform Records, 2020)

The veteran exploratory jazz outfit Thumbscrew, consisting of Tomas Fujiwara on drums and vibes, Mary Halvorson on guitar and Michael Formanek on bass went to the Anthony Braxton archive to search for previously unheard compositions and then worked them into a shape during a four week residency playing live, and developing arrangements of the Braxton compositions to meet their trio format. "Composition No. 52" has a sense of snaking complexity, with fine interplay among the band members throughout the intricate performance. They are never still, but building to a very fast, shimmering quality. Dispensing with anything extraneous, the brief "Composition No. 157" burrows ever deeper into the meat of the composition, unleashing very fast guitar and drums, then becoming quite abstract in the end. "Composition No. 14 (Guitar)" is a short feature for Mary Halvorson, and she makes cool guitar sounds, creating a fascinating solo feature by sculpting those sounds to meet her needs, with shades of blues and electronics. Bowed bass and brushed percussion usher in "Composition No. 68" with spacious guitar sounds, allowing the music to offer short bursts then quickly stop. Vibes enter, adding a new texture everything in space, and the pace speeds up with faster guitar playing, clamoring vibes and percussion. "Composition No. 274" is a gradually building performance that makes the most of Halvorson's excellent guitar to develop a potent and architecturally sound feature that makes the most of the source material. A solo feature for Tomas Fujiwara, "Composition No. 14 (Drums)" is patient and well rounded becoming faster, multi rhythmic and complex. "Composition No. 61" is a compelling theme, sounding almost like a march, quite memorable, and even more so as the trio starts to pick it apart and improvise, spinning faster and faster in a colorful and dynamic fashion. Vibes along with skittish, spidery guitar are at play on "Composition No. 35" before the performance begins to open up with more prominent bass, allowing the improvisation room to flex and grow through episodic development. Finally, "Composition No. 79" is very interesting with its slinky vibes playing with cool bass and guitar. A really jaunty and almost swinging tune is developed, the most accessible by far and a fine ending to a compelling album. Braxton's music is beyond my ken for the most part, but hearing this group play it makes it a little more manageable. They eschew any displays of flashy technique, though they have plenty to spare, to dig deep and explore some of the compositions of a musician who has touched their lives so deeply. The Anthony Braxton Project -

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