Thumbscrew (2014)

 

Thumbscrew

Cuneiform Records (CD)

Released Jan 21, 2014; recorded at the Bunker (Brooklyn), April 7, 2013; recorded & mixed by Jon Rosenberg; produced by Thumbscrew

Personnel:

Track List:

  1. Cheap Knock Off (5:59)
  2. iThumbscrew (7:13)
  3. Fluid Hills in Pink (8:12)
  4. Nothing Doing (1:22)
  5. Goddess Sparkle (6:22)
  6. Buzzard’s Breath (6:00)
  7. Still … Doesn’t Swing (7:24)
  8. Falling Too Far (5:26)
  9. Line to Create Madness (7:36)

This is one of the albums we have all been waiting for. Appealing to fans of jazz, rock, and everything in between, this record is a stunning example of the sonic possibilities now being explored in one of New York’s most vibrant music scenes. The musicians performing here have broken through all of the restrictive definitions that might be used to categorize such music and have gotten on to the task of creating something profoundly new. Pulsating with complex rhythmic interchanges, cutting guitar lines, and popping energy, this music tells a compelling story.

While a great deal of creative music today seems self-consciously abstract or merely exists in relation to a perceived mainstream or genre classification, Thumbscrew’s music is joyously free. These songs have not been written to prove a point, nor are they a product of musicians pushing their instruments to a newly discovered extreme. A rich aesthetic weaves its way through this album, stringing together tunes that unfold one after another like chapters in a riveting novel, each with its peculiarities while building suspense towards conclusion. Superb musicianship is coupled here with brilliant composition, bridging written and improvised sections seamlessly.

I previously referred to Thumbscrew’s sound as “new energy music.” The crackle of energy that builds in each song is of a rare variety. It is emotionally engaging and in the live setting I have witnessed audience members reach the end of pieces out of breath or shaking their heads in amazement. At other times I have walked home after a concert, my body racing with the energy instilled by the music. Only recently did it occur to me that these elements of energy are augmented by corresponding narrative tension in the way the pieces unfold. Drums and bass create layers of interconnected swirls through which guitar plunges defiantly. Halvorson seems to end all of her musical sentences with “and” as she builds expectation with each successive guitar line. Perhaps most of all, though, the comfort that these players have with each other displays a rare level of trust and companionship that pervades the sound that they produce.

“Cheap Knock Off” sets the tone for the album, unveiling the energized approach. “iThumbscrew” juxtaposes this with thoughtful, yet ever-building interactions in the upper registers of all three instruments. “Fluid Hills in Pink” takes a very different approach in creating horizontal, layered sounds with fresh accents that reduce the energy to a simmer and eventually feeds directly into “Nothing Doing.” “Goddess Sparkle” is one of the emotional climaxes in the album and serves as a textbook example of how to build narrative tension to energize music, especially through Fujiwara’s cymbal work. “Buzzard’s Breath” features Halvorson’s driving, cutting playing with bass and drums connecting to guitar at every angle. “Still … Doesn’t Swing” provides Halvorson great exposure on a brilliant guitar solo amidst very challenging and shifting time signatures. “Falling Too Far” is another dynamic piece with guitar pressing forward through a whirlwind of rhythms, eventually stripped away to reveal Formanek on a bold bass solo. “Line to Create Madness,” another of the band’s masterpieces, just accelerates from the first note, twisting and turning through emotional highs and lows towards a measure of resolution.

Thumbscrew’s self-titled album is a monumental achievement by one of New York’s most exciting bands. This is creative music at its finest.

–Cisco Bradley, February 25, 2014

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