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Thumbscrew – Convallaria – Cuneiform

Thumbscrew – Convallaria – Cuneiform – Rune 415, 72:58 ***:

An album of music that is demanding and forceful.

(Mary Halvorson – guitar; Michael Formanek – doublebass; Toma
Fujiwara – drums)

Even after several listenings of Thumbscrew’s most recent release Convallaria, it is still a challenge to find a way to begin the review of this most eclectic album. Avant-garde jazz does not lend itself easily to interpretation, and consequently finding descriptors for the music is taxing.

In medieval Europe, a thumbscrew was a torture instrument designed to crush a victim’s thumbs and fingers. The relationship of that device to the name of this trio is hard to divine unless both Halvorson and Formanek believe that playing a guitar and a bass is some form of finger torture. Certainly these two instruments can play havoc with a player’s fingers and thumbs, so perhaps there is some form of allegory here.

As for the music, it might be best to start with the title track “Convallaria” and work out from there. The unhelpful liner notes offer no assistance on such essential things such as track listing, compositional accreditation, or heaven forbid, some discussion of the musical intent of the performers.

Perhaps there was no money in the recording budget for such frivolities. In any event the composition is Halvorson’s, one of three she contributed to this session. The opening guitar riff sets the stage for the musical exploration that follows. This cerebral approach works well with the participants, as they develop their creative roots around the theme.

It is the essence of this tightly integrated trio to tackle themes that depends on their fluency in harmonic self-assurance. Otherwise the free form structure of the music is difficult to harness. So whether it is “Barn Fire Slum Burn” or “Sampsonian Rhythms” the band is driven by a faithfulness to  both arrangement  and interpretation. These numerous threads of style and inquisitiveness can be found throughout the remainder of the album. With little or no opportunity to establish what might be called whistleablephrases, the music is nevertheless demanding and forceful.

TrackList: Cleome; Barn Fire Slum Burn; Sampsonian Rhythms; Trigger; Screaming Piha; Convallaria; Tail Of The Sad Dog; The Cardinal And The Weathervane; Danse Insensé; Spring Ahead; Inevitable

—Pierre Giroux

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