Thumbscrew — Thumbscrew
(Cuneiform Rune 365, 2014, CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2014-09-19
No, Thumbscrew isn't a gloomy death metal band intent on torturing listeners with the musical equivalent of their namesake. It's an avant-jazz trio consisting of Mary Halvorson (guitar), Michael Formanek (double bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums). The group is conceived as a composers' collective, so each of the players is represented by three pieces, but none of them seem very buttoned-down as compositions, allowing a lot of room for the musicians to express themselves. Just by the nature of the instrument, the guitar is going to be most prominent in any trio, and Halvorson's playing is quite distinctive. Most guitarists spend a lot of time and effort getting just the right tone, trying different guitars, strings, amps, and effects devices to present their particular vision of how they want to sound. Halvorson, in contrast, presents a very stark and dry sound much of the time, with little in the way of reverb or sustain, the only effects in evidence being occasional relatively mild distortion and a pitch-shifting pedal that causes her notes to jump around. The overall impression is rather like a classic jazz guitarist gone avant-garde, or maybe like Derek Bailey in a less free mood than usual. Fujiwara ventures seamlessly between swinging jazzy rhythms and freeform parts that always maintain momentum. Formanek complements the tunes perfectly, providing both low end and impressive forays into the higher register. Tonally, the tunes are adventurous, full of interesting twists and turns, even catchy at times without getting predictable; the playing is rehearsed but not constrained, and never delves into self-indulgent technique displays. This guitar trio is about as far from a shredding fusion band as you can get, and a welcome change of pace.
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From the press release:
To Wake a Dream in Moving Water takes from Echo Us' past and spins it into a whole new direction, one closer to traditional acoustic Celtic music than ever before.
To Wake a Dream in Moving Water was composed and recorded during the first few months of 2017. Although Celtic influenced and comprised of a number of re-workings of Irish folk tunes and Breton aires, the album is still in large part new and original Echo Us music that fits right in the Echo Us ‘canon’. “Wake” is a natural progression from “A Priori Memoriae”, which was released to critical acclaim in Europe in 2014.
To Wake a Dream in Moving Water is Echo Us’ ‘Celtic’ album that was planned for a long time but never executed because of the work on the trilogy that came before it. The album title is a typical ‘Echo Us’ play on words which one can find their own meaning.
“It is also both evocative of the Oregon rain, which I am told is not too unlike the rain in Ireland.”(Matthews)
To Wake a Dream in Moving Water is also a comment on conception- which was unintentional when the lyric was written. Matthews surprised himself a few months after writing it, realizing that the song was actually about the nitty gritty, biological workings of what happens when a child is conceived. The folk song it derives from musically describes a courting ritual, one that even today we can all relate to in our own way.
“Come With Me Over the Mountain" in acapella was the musical inspiration for the song, and came into my consciousness after the lyrics were written a few months prior. “ (Matthews)
As with all Echo Us recordings, a number of seeming coincidences resulted in connections being drawn where prior there were none. Another experience of similar capacity was found in oboe samples from A Priori Memoriae that echoed the traditional “May Morning Dew’, also reworked for guitar on the new album.