Exposé Online banner

Thumbscrew — Ours
(Cuneiform , 2018, CD / DL)

Thumbscrew — Theirs
(Cuneiform , 2018, CD / DL)

by Peter Thelen, Published 2018-06-29

Ours Cover artTheirs Cover art

These are two concurrent new releases by Thumbscrew, the trio of double-bassist Michael Formanek, guitarist Mary Halvorson, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara; Ours is a collection of original compositions, three each by the three members,and Theirs is a collection of ten inspired interpretations of others’ work. The trio, as on their two previous albums Thumbscrew (2014) and Convallaria (2016), has forged a jazz identity borne out of complex compositions laced with plenty of room for improvisation and superb playing all around, though now we also get to hear how they handle others’ work, or for lack of a better term, covers. Before I get ahead of myself, though, I guess the bigger news surrounding these releases is that Cuneiform is back after a six-month hiatus, a time of uncertainty about the label’s future, which now seems to be resolved in continuing forward, though in a scaled back way. Starting with Ours, there are some amazing pieces here, and one is often left scratching their head in worder about what is composed and what is improvised. Take Formanek’s piece “Cruel Heartless Bastards” which spends its entire seven minute duration alternately speeding up and slowing down, with a definite groove in tow, then breaking into what surely seems like free improvisation, and somehow finding that groove again. I can’t imagine what the charts for the piece look like, but as merely a listener one can simply be amazed and mystified by it all. Halvorson’s “Thumbprint” cruises along freely with electric guitar leading the way, while the other players fill in behind in what seems like a fairly wild ride on first play, but after a few listens the compositional aspects hiding within its experimental beauty start falling into place. One of Fujiwara’s pieces “Rising Snow” starts with a gentler touch and some interesting percussive variations while Halvorson adds some interesting whammy acrobatics underneath a clear melodic purpose. All the pieces on Ours are a clear sampling of te trio’s collective brilliance and experimental sense of purpose, but it’s also interesting how they approach the interpretations on Theirs, but the end result is clearly in line with their own material. Of course, it helps when one isn’t familiar with a lot of the original versions of the material they are covering – “Scarlet Ribbons” (recorded numerous times, but the Harry Belafonte and Kingston Trio’s versions which I was most familiar with sound nothing like Thumbscrew’s interpretation!) and Wayne Shorter’s “Dance Cadaverous” originally from 1966’s Speak No Evil were the only ones I recognized right off. The two cuts presented by South American composers Julio De Caro (“Buen Amigo”) and Jacob de Bandolin (“Benzinho”) are particularly interesting choices, the latter with a very infectious groove, but in every case Thumbscrew makes them their own. Both Ours and Theirs are essential listening, it’s hard to imagine one without the other.


Filed under: New releases, 2018 releases

Related artist(s): Thumbscrew, Mary Halvorson

Latest news

2019-04-24
Help MoonJune Bring Great Music to Life – Like many music lovers around the world, we’ve been thrilled and amazed to hear the recordings that have been released by MoonJune from sessions at La Casa Murada in Spain. Such label stalwarts as Mark Wingfield, Markus Reuter, Asaf Sirkis, Tony Levin, Dusan Jevtovic, Vasil Hadzimanov, and many more have gathered in various combinations at the studio to produce some of the most creative music in recent years. Now, label head Leonardo Pavkovic is offering a compilation, La Casa Murada - MoonJune Sessions, Volume One, as a fundraiser for upcoming sessions. » Read more

2019-04-10
The Pineapple Thief to Tour North America – November and December of 2019 will see The Pineapple Thief bringing their music to Canada, Mexico, and the US, and famed drummer Gavin Harrison will be on board. The band has been touring extensively in Europe, but North America will be new territory for them. » Read more

2019-03-25
Scott Walker RIP – Noel Scott Engel, better known as Scott Walker, was one of the most intriguing and enigmatic musical figures in the second half of the 20th Century. His strange career started with The Walker Brothers, an American pop group that featured no one named Walker and no brothers. After moving to England in 1965, they had a series of hit singles. Scott's solo work started with Scott in 1967. Starting in the 80s, his work took an increasingly avant-garde turn. » Read more

2019-03-20
Freedom to Spend Unearths June Chikuma's Archives – Jun (June) Chikuma is well known for her video game and anime soundtracks, but she also released an album of experimental electronic music back in 1986 called Divertimento where she indulged the kind of spontaneity that wouldn't work in a soundtrack. RVNG Int'l label Freedom to Spend is bringing this overlooked item to broader attention with a deluxe reissue. » Read more

2019-03-03
Seaprog 2019 Lineup Almost Complete – The Seaprog festival in Seattle is scheduled for June 7-9 this year, and they've announced their lineup of performers. The revitalized Trettioåriga Kriget will cap Friday night, perennial favorites Marbin are on Saturday, and District 97 will finish off the fest on Sunday night. In support, they've booked a stellar variety of artists from the Northwest and around the world, including EchoTest, Markus Reuter and Trey Gunn, and the live debut of the amazing Troot project. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

The Mother Hips - Kiss the Crystal Flake – The Mother Hips have been kicking around the Bay Area for at least a decade, having a half-dozen or so releases to date, though this is their first in a few years. Their stock in trade is great...  (2008) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues