photo by Peter Gannushkin
Album Release of Convallaria
- $30 Assigned Rows 1-2
- $20 Assigned Rows 3-5
- $15 General Admission
- $5 Student
- Mary Halvorson, guitar
- Michael Formanek, bass
- Tomas Fujiwara, drums
“The barrage of riffs are both epic and melodic, the low end beefy and the percussion massive. Expect nothing less than magic from these three avant purveyors." - The Village Voice
Creative artists aren’t subject to state persecution in the United States, but indifference can exact its own cost, just as generous support can pay steep dividends. Convallaria, the startlingly beautiful new Cuneiform album by the collective trio Thumbscrew, offers an all-too-rare case study in the power of underwritten sequestration.
Featuring veteran bass master Michael Formanek, protean guitarist Mary Halvorson, and indefatigably resourceful drummer Tomas Fujiwara, Thumbscrew spent two weeks honing the tunes on Convallaria at City of Asylum, an artist residency program in Pittsburgh originally launched as a refuge for writers in exile. In recent years City of Asylum has expanded its purview to include musicians, establishing the BNY Mellon Jazz Residency that in June/July 2015 hosted Thumbscrew. For Thumbscrew, the opportunity for intensive, undistracted collaboration yielded a particularly striking body of music, even by the standards of these prodigious players.
Raised in Boston and based in Brooklyn, Mary Halvorson spent three formative years at Wesleyan University studying and playing with visionary composer and saxophonist Anthony Braxton, eventually performing on six of his recordings. Since graduating from Wesleyan in 2002, she’s become a ubiquitous presence in the circles where left-field jazz and improvised music intersect. Recognized as one of the most important and resourceful new voices on guitar to emerge in the past decade, she’s a doggedly idiosyncratic artist who “can define the character of an entire band’s tonal makeup without have to scream for attention,” says S. Victor Aaron.
An invaluable collaborator, Halvorson has been sought out by bandleaders such as Tim Berne, Curtis Hasselbring, Myra Melford, Jason Moran, Ches Smith, Joe Morris, Tom Rainey, Marc Ribot, and Trevor Dunn. She’s equally prolific as a bandleader in her own right. She’s developed a body of music for solo guitar (documented on the 2015 Firehouse 12 album Meltframe), and leads a combustible trio with bassist John Hebert and drummer Ches Smith. Her muscular quintet adds trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon to the mix, and more recently Halvorson expanded the quintet to a septet with tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and trombonist Jacob Garchik, a group featured on her 2013 release Illusionary Sea.
One of jazz’s definitive bassists since the 1980s, Michael Formanek has also made major contributions as a bandleader, composer and educator. Born in San Francisco, he first gained attention at 18 through his work with Tony Williams Lifetime, and spent much of the 1980s as a sideman with heavyweights such as Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, Dave Liebman, Fred Hersch, and Attila Zoller. He made his recording debut as a leader in 1990 with Wide Open Spaces, an acclaimed album featuring saxophonist Greg Osby, violinist Mark Feldman, guitarist Wayne Krantz and drummer Jeff Hirshfield.
He spent much of the 1990s in various collaborations with Tim Berne, first recording on the 1992 trio session with Hirshfield, Loose Cannon. Formanek toured and recorded widely with the Berne’s band Bloodcount, while also leading his own septet with Berne, Dave Douglas, Marty Ehrlich, Kuumba Frank Lacy, Marvin “Smitty” Smith and Salvatore Bonafede. In addition to his work as a bandleader, Formanek has recorded prolifically as an accompanist on albums by Jane Ira Bloom, Uri Caine, James Emery, Lee Konitz, Kevin Mahogany, and the Mingus Big Band. Based in Baltimore since 2003, he is the director of the Peabody Jazz Orchestra and the jazz bass instructor at the prestigious Peabody Conservatory of Music. He continues to perform and collaborate with a dazzling array of improvisers, but there’s no doubt that he’s found a home base with Halvorson and Fujiwara, whether they’re performing as Thumbscrew or some other ensemble.
Born and raised in Boston, MA, Tomas Fujiwara studied with legendary drummer and teacher Alan Dawson for eight years before moving to New York at the age of 17. The Brooklyn-based drummer and composer was recently described by Troy Collins in Point of Departure as “a ubiquitous presence in the New York scene…an artist whose urbane writing is equal to his impressively nuanced drumming.”
Fujiwara is a key component in some of the most exciting music of the current generation, from his own bands Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up and The Tomas Fujiwara Trio (with Ralph Alessi and Brandon Seabrook) to his collaborative duo with Taylor Ho Bynum, and a diversity of creative sideman work with forward thinking peers like Matana Roberts, Tomeka Reid, Nicole Mitchell, Mike Reed, Matt Bauder, Matt Mitchell, Amir ElSafar, and Josh Sinton’s Steve Lacy-centric Ideal Bread. He can also be found in revelatory projects with artists such as Anthony Braxton, Ben Goldberg, Benoit Delbecq, and Briggan Krauss.