AMN Reviews: Thumbscrew – Multicolored Midnight (2022; Cuneiform Records)

From Michael Formanek and Tomas Fujiwara’s opening bass and drum theme, it is clear that Thumbscrew has achieved a signature sound, one that has been worked on over the course of six previous albums and continues to be defined herein. And this is even before one of the most distinctive guitarists in a generation – Mary Halvorson – joins in with her string-twisting leads. While at times it feels like Halvorson’s angularity pulls at Formanek and Fujiwara, in actuality the trio as a whole straddles traditional jazz and outside improv.

Consisting of eleven tracks between four and nine minutes each, the album exhibits only a handful of extended excursions. In line with their prior releases, Thumbscrew says their piece and then moves on. The formula here, if there is one, focuses on loose structures that give Halvorson license to explore her fretboard with bending, slides, and speed picking among more melodic passages. Her playing sounds inside-out, using the whole of the guitar to generate musical noises rather than just hitting notes.

If anything, Multicolored Midnight is a more intense version of Thumbscrew than we’ve heard before. Tracks like Survival Fetish flirt with the edge of chaos, while Formanek takes the lead over Fujiwara’s vibes on Shit Changes. Formanek goes on to manipulate his basswork with electronics and loops on Fidgety. But, in a nutshell, the album is an amplification of all things Thumbscrew – busier, denser, more complex, and with a generous dose of genre fluidity. In other words, if you like Thumbscrew’s past efforts, don’t sit on this one.

Multicolored Midnight comes out on September 30 from Cuneiform Records.