Exposé print issues (1993-2011)
Thumbscrew — Multicolored Midnight
(Cuneiform Rune 485, 2022, CD / DL)
by Jon Davis, Published 2022-11-24
With Multicolored Midnight, Thumbscrew returns to their own compositions after a diversion into Anthony Braxton’s world, so it’s quite expected that the album sounds basically like a typical Thumbscrew album. So if you’re familiar with any of their previous releases, you know what to expect — which isn’t a bad thing at all if you liked the music. For those who haven’t yet made that plunge, we have Mary Halvorson, who is a quite distinctive guitarist, not fond of distortion or other effects barring her trusty pitch-bend pedal, of which she is very fond, and what sounds like a granular delay. She favors jagged lines that sometimes sound atonal and are mangled by wild swoops of pitch, almost like a mutated pedal steel guitar. Michael Formanek’s upright bass doesn’t fill the standard jazz bass role in these compositions. You won’t hear walking lines under changes, but composed parts that work more like independent polyphonic parts. He also contributes some electronic elements, though they’re hard to identify. Tomas Fujiwara is a versatile drummer who similarly navigates the unusual arrangements and provides strategic accents rather than just throwing down swinging or funky grooves. He also moves from his kit to a vibraphone from time to time. Jazz listeners who favor grooves of rhythmic consistency will be frustrated, as will those looking for any of the traditional tropes of jazz: a memorable melody, solos over changes, and so on. While the tunes are composed by all three (three each for Halvorson and Fujiwara, five for Formanek), they are all quite similar conceptually — these players are quite attuned to each other and contribute pieces that fit the ensemble perfectly. In the guitar trio format, Thumbscrew remains one of the most interesting and consistently superb groups in jazz.
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