“what is remaining
decided to float in air
Mary Halvorson in John Zorn, “Arcana VI musicians on music”, pag. 107
The recent Cuneiform Records’ release for the Thumbscrew trio’s new CD has prompted me to write these notes, linking their last effort to their homonymous cd, released for Cuneiform Records in 2014.
Instead of writing two separate reviews, I thought of joining the two CDs in a single post, concentrating myself, considering the nature of my blog, on guitarist Mary Halvorson, who, in the last years, has been attracting great interest and sympathy from jazz enthusiasts.
For those who want to deepen the thought of this excellent guitarist I suggest reading the books “Perpetual Frontiers The Properties of Free Music” by guitarist Joe Morris and John Zorn’s “Arcana VI musicians on music”, which you will read some quotes.
I immediately liked the name of the trio: “Thumbscrew” trio, to me, that I’m Italian, it sounded good. Then I went to look for the origins of the name and … I was a little bit surprised, discovering that it is in fact the name of a medieval torture tool:
“The thumbscrew is a torture instrument which was first used in medieval Europe. It is a simple vice, sometimes with protruding studs on the interior surfaces. The victim’s thumbs or fingers were placed in the vice and slowly crushed. The thumbscrew was also applied to crush prisoners’ big toes. The crushing bars were sometimes lined with sharp metal points to puncture the thumbs and inflict greater pain in the nail beds. Larger, heavier devices based on the same design principle were applied to crush feet and ears.”
Nothing more different than the music this trio manages to express. Their music is not noisy or loud: it’s cooperative. The Thumscrew are a sound and musical cooperative in the truest sense of the term. If I have to look for terms that can summarize all of their qualities, I would use the words “interplay” and “pulse” without any problems. These are two terms that should not surprise the listener as much as Halvorson wrote in Joe Morris’s book, please read:
“I consider pulse almost 100% of the time, whether or not there is a tangible pulse happening in the music. The way in which an individual musician relates to pulse is a key element in defining their sound. For me having a strong drive and rhythmic element is very important. I enjoy exploring varieties within pulse: steady pulses as well as pulses that speed up, slow down, deteriorate; two different pulsessimultaneously; rubato pulses; sudden shifts in rhythm.”
Joe Morris, “Perpetual Frontiers The Properties of Free Music”, pag. 127
Thumscrew’s music expresses these considerations very well: it’s something physical, material, tortuous, constantly moving. They are a trio, but it does not look like. I would call their music as “quiet loud”. It’s quiet, but it nourishes and expresses an underground energy that creates an incredible tension, a relaxed tension. It’s a trio that havn’t a real leader, all three members sound like peers, ideas seem to come from all three simultaneously, interplay is perfect, mutual understanding is telepathic, and you can feel these things in both their records, which, in my opinion, could be listened to in perfect sequence, as if the “stream of consciousness” that their music broadcasts could go on for a longer time.
Halvorson’s sound is perfect: a unique mix between the electric and acoustic sound of her instrument, a precise and immediate attack, a combination calculated between the “natural” sound of the guitar and the use of different pedals and effects such as tremolo, distortion and delay.
Thumbscrew and Convallaria are two great records. Their main gift is that you never get tired listening to them. I tried to listen to them in loops for an entire afternoon, there was nothing to do: I found it was difficult to use their music as “musical tapestry”, as a “home soundtracks”, there was always something that called for my attention, a change in the drums’ rhythm, a variation in the guitar phrasing, a new idea expressed by the double bass. And even if you listen to them you can always notice something new … something unexpected, something you never noticed before. Isn’t it great?