AMN Reviews: Halvorson / Formanek / Fujiwara – Thumbscrew (Cuneiform Records)

Thumbscrew -Mary Halvorson - Michael Formanek - Tomas Fujiwara- - Thumbscrew - Thumbscrew-Thumbscrew-coverMary Halvorson, Michael Formanek, and Tomas Fujiwara are veterans of the New York creative jazz scene. This sort of “avant-supergroup” recording happens frequently enough that the results need to be very interesting to garner significant attention. But it should not be surprising that this trio’s output meets that threshold.

This, their debut album, features writing credits split equally between the three. However, their compositional approaches are so complimentary and integrated that there are no abrupt stylistic changes from track to track. As expected, Formanek provides rubbery acoustic bass, Halvorson her clean and prickly guitar lines, and Fujiwara his insightful and angular drumming. While each participant is well-known for their improvisational skill, Thumbscrew was meant to let their writing shine.

And shine it does. The opening track, Cheap Knock Off, features riffing from Formanek and Fujiwara. Then Halvorson joins in with a spiky, electric lead, progresses to strummed chords, followed by her trademark noisy aggression. Fujiwara is so tight that he is easy to overlook, despite his busyness. After a few passes through Thumbscrew, I feel like I could listen to an album of just his drumming.

The more I listen to this offering, the more I like it. A spirited release.

Jazz Twists From Steve Lehman and His Octet at the Stone

English: Steve Lehman, moers festival 2010
English: Steve Lehman, moers festival 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Mr. Lehman, an alto saxophonist and composer of rigorous disposition, was in the process of workshopping a batch of new music for his octet, and there could be no mistaking the originality of the enterprise, certainly not by that point in the set. The ensemble had already spun through some radically reimagined material by the pianist Bud Powell, whose music usually gets filed under the rubric of bebop; it had played deep-focus music of Mr. Lehman’s own progressive design. A phrase like “completely different,” under the circumstances, wasn’t a disclaimer so much as a rallying cry.

AMN Picks of the Week: Brandon Evans / Lucky 7’s / Thumbscrew / Max Johnson Trio

Mike Reed’s Myth/Science Assembly

Here is where I post, at a frequency of about once a week, a list of the new music that has caught my attention that week. I heard all of the releases listed below for the first time this week, and each is recommended.

Brandon Evans – Two Compositions for Chamber Orchestra 1998 (1998)
Lucky 7’s – Farragut (2007)
Thumbscrew (Halvorson / Formanek / Fujiwara) – Thumbscrew (2014)
Max Johnson Trio – The Invisible Trio (2014)

Jazz Listings From The New York Times

English: Tyshawn Sorey at moers festival 2010
English: Tyshawn Sorey at moers festival 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Michael Bates’s Acrobat (Saturday) The bassist Michael Bates brings a prickly fluency to his role as bandleader and arranger on “Acrobat: Music for, and by, Dmitri Shostakovich,” his most recent release. As on the album, he works here with the trumpeter Russ Johnson, the multireedist Chris Speed and the pianist Russ Lossing; Dan Weiss is the only substitute, on drums. At 9 and 10:30 p.m., Cornelia Street Café, 29 Cornelia Street, Greenwich Village, (212) 989-9319,; $10 cover, with a $10 minimum. (Chinen)

Jim Black Trio (Friday and Saturday) Jim Black is known as a drummer of convulsive intensity and a bandleader rooted in the protocols of noise-rock. But on “Somatic,” a recent album, he leads an acoustic trio featuring the young Austrian pianist Elias Stemeseder and the American bassist Thomas Morgan. Mr. Black appears with Mr. Morgan and Teddy Klausner on piano this weekend, and on Friday at 10 p.m. they will be joined by the saxophonist Tim Berne. At 8:30 and 10 p.m., IBeam, 168 Seventh Street, Gowanus, Brooklyn,; suggested donation, $15. (Chinen)

Marty Ehrlich’s Trio Exaltation (Thursday) Mr. Ehrlich, a versatile alto saxophonist and virtuoso clarinetist, wasn’t overstating the case when he came up with the name for this promising new trio, with John Hébert on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. The group appears as part of the Sound It Out series, most likely playing some music conceived with this personnel in mind. At 8 p.m., Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street, West Village, (212) 242-4770,; $15, $12 for students. (Chinen)

Bill Frisell: ‘Reflections on the Bristol Sessions’ (Friday and Saturday) Mr. Frisell, a jazz guitarist with an abiding affinity for the rustic byways of American music, offers his tribute to a formative moment in country music history, from 1927. He’ll have expert assistance from the fiddler and singer-songwriter Carrie Rodriguez and the guitarist Buddy Miller. At 7 and 9:30 p.m., Allen Room, Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, 60th Street and Broadway, (212) 721-6500,; $45 to $75. (Chinen)

Irabagon Fest (Wednesday through next Friday) A smart young saxophonist who has successfully ducked in and out of the mainstream jazz tradition, Jon Irabagon spearheads three bands next week, starting on Wednesday with a trio featuring the drummer Barry Altschul and the bassist Mark Helias, both veterans of the avant-garde. On Thursday he will work with a quartet that seems equally inclined toward progressivism, with Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Michael Formanek on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. Next Friday he will be working in a trio format with the guitarist Mary Halvorson and the drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Wednesday and Thursday at 8:30 p.m., next Friday at 9 and 10:30 p.m., Cornelia Street Café, 29 Cornelia Street, Greenwich Village, (212) 989-9319,; $10 cover, with a $10 minimum. (Chinen)

Darius Jones Quartet with Emilie Lesbros (Friday) The alto saxophonist Darius Jones favors a robust and personal take on post-1960s free jazz, which makes him a natural partner for the wise elder in this quartet, the drummer Andrew Cyrille. Rounding out the group are the bassist Sean Conly and the Cuban pianist Aruán Ortiz; joining as a featured guest is the singer Emilie Lesbros. At 9 and 11 p.m., the Jazz Gallery at Salt Space, 1160 Broadway, fifth floor, at West 27th Street, (646) 494-3625,; $20, $10 for members. (Chinen)

Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos (Tuesday through Jan. 26) The intensely thoughtful pianist-composer-bandleader Guillermo Klein always brings some new information to his club engagements, which feature first-rate collaborators from New York as well as his home base, Buenos Aires. Among his core areas of research are rhythmic permutation and folkloric candor, folded into the fabric of a state-of-the-art midsize band. At 8:30 and 10:30 p.m., Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South, at 11th Street, West Village, (212) 255-4037,; $25 and $30, with a one-drink minimum. (Chinen)

Steve Lehman Octet (Friday and Saturday) Several years ago the alto saxophonist and composer Steve Lehman introduced this gang of peers, an agile vehicle for his ultramodern compositions, which find use for both spectral analysis and the language of post-bop progressivism. In preparation for its second album, due out in June, Mr. Lehman has scrambled the band for a residency this week at the Stone. In addition to original material, he’s expected to explore radically redrawn covers of tunes by the bebop pianist Bud Powell and the hip-hop duo Camp Lo. At 8 and 9:30 p.m., Avenue C and Second Street, East Village,; $15 for the night, $10 for students. (Chinen)

New York Guitar Festival (through Jan. 30) A pan-stylistic celebration of the guitar, underway since last week, this festival reaches full steam over the next few days with an Alt-Guitar Summit organized by Joel Harrison. The first concert, on Friday at 8 p.m. at SubCulture, features a parade of trios led by Will Bernard, Liberty Ellman, David Gilmore and Miles Okazaki. On Saturday, in the same room at 7:30 p.m., Dave Tronzo leads a trio of his own, and Fred Frith converges in duologue with Nels Cline. Sunday’s program at 8 p.m. is a tribute to the drummer and composer Paul Motian, featuring inspired pairings of musicians, including the guitarist Ben Monder and the saxophonist Bill McHenry; Mr. Cline and the guitarist Julian Lage; the guitarist Gilad Hekselman and the drummer Jeff Ballard; and Mr. Harrison with the drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Among next week’s programming are a free, six-hour marathon of classical guitar, at Merkin Concert Hall beginning at 2 p.m. on Monday, and “Silent Films/Live Guitars,” an image-and-music concept that kicks off on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., with Marc Ribot annotating Joseph von Sternberg’s “The Docks of New York” (1928) and Chris Eldridge of Punch Brothers tackling Fatty Arbuckle’s “Coney Island” (1917). Ticket information and a full schedule are at (Chinen)