Thumbscrew: Theirs

Karl Ackermann By

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It has been four years since Thumbscrew, the trio of guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, released their self-titled debut (Cuneiform Records, 2014). The trio is simultaneously releasing two albums—their third and fourth—Ours and Theirs on the same label. As the titles indicate, one album consists of original compositions and the other, covers from a very eclectic assortment of artists from Benny Golson to Wayne Shorter and far less familiar names. The latter of the two albums is the subject here, though in many ways, the two albums can be taken together as an organic project.

In little more than ten years, Halvorson has gone from a promising new talent to one of the preeminent guitarists in creative music. On the heals of her remarkable double-disc Code Girl (Firehouse 12 Records, 2018) she maintains an unpredictability that makes her music unique. The span of Formanek's long associations with such diverse artists as Tim Berne and Uri Caine, along with his own body of work, have made him a perfect fit for the idiosyncratic music of Halvorson. Fujiwara has deep associations with both bandmates and has proven himself to be the essence of nuanced force and sophistication.

While the compositions on Theirs belong to others, the mix of scrupulous detail and spontaneity in each methodology, clearly stamps the treatments as original. The trio opts for an eclectic mix of covers with Golson's "Stablemates" leading off in a slower, rounder version of the original. There are strong Latin influences with the late Argentinian composer Julio De Caro and Brazilian, Jacob Do Bandolim represented by pieces that provide Halvorson with two very different approaches to South American dance music. "House Party Starting" is relatively true to the Herbie Nichols original and offers a hypnotic Formanek/Fujiwara duo performance. The album closes with a gentle and beautiful version of Misha Mengelberg's "Weer is een dag voorbij" (Another day is over).

Halvorson has such an extensive and inimitable approach to her playing that it only makes sense to regard her within whatever parameters she chooses at a particular point in time; it's rarely the same stricture even if her playing is now easily identifiable. She manages to push boundaries of conformist thinking and application without expressly going off on tangents. With more than two dozen albums in her still brief, but prolific career to date, Theirs represents new territory and the chance to appreciate Halvorson (as well as Formanek and Fujiwara) in a setting that's a bit different.

Track Listing

Stablemates; Benzinho; House Party Starting; The Peacocks; East of the Sun; Scarlet Ribbons; (For Her Hair); Buen Amigo; Dance Cadaverous; Effi.


Mary Halvorson: guitar; Michael Formanek: double bass; Tomas Fujiwara: drums.

Album information

Title: Theirs | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records



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