In listening to Thumbscrew (from guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, and bassist Michael Formanek) it’s easy to get sucked into listening to just one instrument at a time. On Fujiwara’s composition “Cheap Knock Off”, he’s poised to steal the show, but the song takes off when the trio merge midway in a surprising but appropriate manner, after which Halvorson’s playing takes over. The disc, more focused on composition than you might expect, supplies plenty of these moments. The trio stay loose and improvisational, but tight to each other. Halvorson doesn’t neglect her noise or sonic explorations, but she keeps her playing spry throughout, fittingly complementing her partners. Similarly, while each artist has composed three tracks a piece, their styles blend well. There’s even a touch of group humor. “Still… Doesn’t Swing” has a playful ring, and hints at the swing the title suggests, but instead turns the idea into a game (which Halvorson intends to break). It’s fun, smart, and technically impressive, and only sort of like a traditional thumbscrew.
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