THUMBSCREW — Convallaria (review)

THUMBSCREW — Convallaria album cover Album · 2016 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Thumbscrew is a ‘super group’ of sorts in the world of avant-garde jazz. Mary Halvorson on guitar, Michael Formanek on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums are all heavyweights who have worked with some of the top names in modern jazz, so one can’t be blamed for having high expectations for this talented trio, and on their new album, “Convallaria”, your expectations may be often met, but possibly not on every track. According to the band, they use a fair amount of composition in their music, as well as improvisation, but to most listeners it will be hard to hear a distinct difference between the two, the improvs may sound composed, and the composed sections may sound improvised.

The three tracks that open the album are some of the best. “Cleome” is an off-kilter jazz rock number that features a heavy distorted guitar that sounds like a cross between Sonny Sharrock and Robert Fripp. The opening of “Barn Fire Slum Brew” has Halvorson channeling a fractured Jim Hall before the band stumbles into some modern broken swing that the band grooves on naturally. “Sampson Rhythms” has the band in a more abstract style as they play interlocking phrases as if finishing each other’s sentences. On the next two tracks the band loses some momentum on indulgent noise sections that drag on a little too long. The rest of the album is more hit than miss, with some highlights including avant math rock on title track “Convallaria”, and a slippery island groove on album closer, “Inevitable”.

Overall “Convallaria” is a good album that should please the fans. The strengths on this album do not usually come from the supplied compositions, which sometimes seem stretched thin, but instead come from the creativity of the musicians involved. Mary Halvorson is one of the more original voices in jazz today, and her back up band is intuitive in following her, as well as striking out on their own.
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