Monday, July 06, 2015

Thumbscrew was here. Did you know?

Last night Thumbscrew played a show to cap off their two-week residency in Pittsburgh. The group consists of Michael Formanek (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums) and Mary Halvorson (guitar). It's a cooperative group where all three of them bring in compositions. They put out an album on Cuneiform, which I reviewed in JazzTimes last year. As part of their residency here, they wrote music for a new album and recorded it at Smalls studio (which is not located in the same building as Mr. Small's Theatre anymore, but in the former site of Audiomation on the North Side.)

If you're a Pittsburgher who didn't know about the show, I'm guessing you're not alone. I suppose, as the main voice of jazz for Pittsburgh City Paper (I'm not trying to brag; I don't know if anyone else picks up the slack), maybe it was partially my fault. I knew they were coming to town, but forgot exactly when it was happening. Coming off about three weeks of Monday deadlines for CP and JT, not to mention some new work for Blurt, I felt like I needed a day where I wasn't either working the dayjob or scrambling for a deadline or hustling a story. So I didn't start chasing the info right away. Nor had anyone contacted me in advance.

By the time I reached out to Halvorson via email they were already here, scouting studios and trying to get on with the business. As it turns out, they were also doing seminars while they were here. That I didn't know about. A few days later I heard from City of Asylum, who was sponsoring the event, along with BNY Mellon. But by then, the deadline to preview the concert had pretty much passed.

The FREE SHOW happened last night on Sampsonia Way, just down the street from the Mattress Factory and from City of Asylum HQ. That's right, free free free. How much do you have to pay to see Michael Formanek - he who has received not one but TWO five-star album reviews in downbeat for his last two albums as a leader? Tomas Fujiwara is also a mother of a drummer, attacking back beats and freedom with the same level of enthusiasm. And anyone who has read anything on this blog knows how I feel about Mary Halvorson. (For you first-time visitors, I think she's extremely inventive as a musician and composer.)

I was getting back into town after visiting family yesterday, so I missed the first 30 minutes of the set. The good news is, I saw the remaining 90 minutes.

Formanek introduced a new piece which he called "Danse en Sense," (I think) asking for any French-speaking audience members to help with the correct pronunciation, having taken it from Google translate. The idea he was going for meant "nonsense dance," and true to the title, the trio played independent lines that were wild yet still worked together, especially Fujiwara's woodblocks, strategically placed on his snare and floor tom. I had half a mind to ask him if his part was written out or if he was just following an idea. But I never got around to it.

Having listened to their debut, it was more exciting seeing them in action, watching the various parts intersect in the music, from more rock-oriented foundations to freedom. The audience seemed to dig it too, giving them a standing ovation. It was great to see so many people out for an adventurous show. I wish they would intersect with the jazz audience at shows when Lina Allemano or William Parker come to town. Or even at the weekly Tuesday night Space Exchange shows at the Thunderbird. The latter events are free shows too.

I'd be curious to know what got people out to this particular event. The 6pm start time? The lack of a cover charge? Getting email blasts about it? This inquiring mind would like to know.

How many people read this blog and thought, wow, I would've gone had I know about it.


Jim said...

This show was incredible. As was the workshop earlier in the week. It was my first time seeing any of them live. I was also glad that people came out. Hoping similar events will follow. Nice write up!

BTW I took a few pics and a short video in case you are interested...

shanleymusic said...

Thanks, Jim! I forgot when I first posted this that I took a couple pics myself. You've got a nice blog there yourself.