Celebrated jazz trio Thumbscrew comes to Dartmouth to mentor and perform with the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble on Friday, February 8, 8 pm, in Spaulding Auditorium of the Hopkins Center in what promises to be a joyous and adventurous concert of jazz standards and new music.
Thumbscrew is a supergroup of three leaders in jazz who have each received bombastic acclaim. Dubbed by Village Voice as “one of today’s most formidable bandleaders”guitarist Mary Halvorson has been called “one of the most exciting and original guitarists in jazz—or otherwise” (Wall Street Journal). The New York Times writes about drummer Tomas Fujiwara, “His style is forward-driving but rarely blunt or aggressive, and never random … [he conceives] of the drum set as a full-canvas instrument, almost orchestral in its scope.” Thirty years their senior, bassist Michael Formanek needs no epithet. Formanek began touring in his teens in the 1970s with drummer Tony Williams and saxophonist Joe Henderson, continued with long stints with such legends as Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Fred Hersch and Freddie Hubbard, and now is a formidable presence in New York’s jazz and new music scene.
Watch Mary Halverson and Tomas Fujiwara answer twitter questions at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival:
Thumbscrew comes to Dartmouth through its association with Coast Director Taylor Ho Bynum. Fujiwara says the trio is eager to come north. “Taylor brings an energy and passion for music that is infectious and inspiring. Over the years, the members of the collective trio Thumbscrew have had the pleasure of collaborating with Taylor in musical contexts ranging from duos to orchestras around the world. To see Taylor bring that same level of excitement and engagement to these young musicians as he inspires, teaches, and collaborates is a true joy. As a band, spending a week with Taylor and his Dartmouth student ensemble, preparing for our concert and sharing our experiences as artists with these talented musicians, is something we are greatly looking forward to.”
The three members first worked together as the rhythm section for the Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet and soon forged a cooperative ensemble of equal partners in band-leading and composition, approaching their music in a way that is distinct from their individual projects.
Although the three members are known as brilliant improvisers, Thumbscrew is more of a composer’s vehicle. While many cooperative bands draw on material recycled from other projects, “One of the things we said at the beginning is, let’s just write music for Thumbscrew and it will only be Thumbscrew music,” says Formanek. The trio’s compositional approach is open-ended and fluid, allowing each member full freedom to guide the sonic interplay. Formanek attests, “It really is a three-composer trio, and all of our tunes have our basic aesthetics attached. But we want everybody to have input. Nobody’s afraid to make a decision. It’s one of the first co-ops I’ve been in where everyone’s really willing to take control at any given moment.”
The trio has produced four albums since 2014, the last two released simultaneously and titled Theirs and Ours; the former consists of Thumbscrew’s inventive covers of such composers as American legends Benny Golson and Wayne Shorter, as well as international jazz and avant-gardists, and the latter is made up of original compositions, three from each member. In a shoutout about the Vanguard gig, The New Yorker described the trio as “proudly of the moment … [but] also mindful of the tradition that it so diligently messes with.”
Here is an atrociously low resolution video of the trio that might transport you to a jazz bar in Brooklyn in 2012, swaying to Still… Doesn’t Swing.
Halvorson, Fujiwara and Formanek will arrive on campus Sunday, February 3, and will spend each evening rehearsing with the Coast – this term a 24-member ensemble that includes two violinists and a bassoonist, as well as the instruments more customary to jazz. They also will visit Dartmouth classes, give private lessons to students, and take part in a workshop on Wednesday, February 6, 4 pm in the Lower Buck Room of the Hopkins Center that will be free and open to the public to observe. At the concert, the trio members will play as part of the Coast ensemble on both standards and their original compositions, arranged for big band, and will also break off and play as a trio.