AMN Reviews: Thumbscrew – Never is Enough (2021; Cuneiform Records)

Thumbscrew, the trio of guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, has produced a series of must-have releases over the last 6 years, culminating in 2020’s The Anthony Braxton Project. During that session, they also worked on originals that make up their newest offering, Never is Enough.

Indeed, the influence of Braxton is present on this album as well, though perhaps at a subconscious level. One can hear echoes of Braxton on Through an Open Window and Emojis Have Consequences in Halvorson’s crisp soloing over knotty rhythms. She couples acoustic and undistorted electric to produce twisted notes and carry out speed-picking, while Formanek’s fingering continuously heads in unexpected directions. Fujiwara provides supple and snare-heavy percussion.

If anything, the album leans more introspective and melancholy than their previous efforts, with the title track’s slowly evolving structures being a prime example. The ballad-like Heartdrop is another. Fractured Sanity heads in several other, more assertive trajectories simultaneously, as the title would suggest. The densely packed Scam Likely spans these bearings.

Thumbscrew would never be mistaken as straight jazz or free improv, but these influences also subtly underlie the group’s writing. Instead, this an “anti-guitar-trio” – three individuals who take a traditional grouping of instruments that have been used across jazz and rock outfits for years, and head off into uncharted territory. Thus, Thumbscrew is anything but conventional and manages to break new ground even within this tried and true format.

Never is Enough comes out this Friday. Do not hesitate.

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