The Jazz@Bucknell Series continues this spring with a concert by Thumbscrew on Wednesday, Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m. in Bucknell Hall at Bucknell University.
The performance is free and open to the public.
Thumbscrew — Mary Halvorson, guitar; Michael Formanek, double bass; and Tomas Fujiwara, drums — are three well-established leaders on the new jazz/new music scene. With their eponymous debut album, they document the group's commitment to new music created specifically for this ensemble.
"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. "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."
One of improvised music's most in-demand guitarists, Halvorson has been active in New York since 2002, following jazz studies at Wesleyan University and the New School. Critics have called her "a singular talent" (Lloyd Sachs, JazzTimes), "NYC's least-predictable improviser" (Howard Mandel, City Arts), "one of the most exciting and original guitarists in jazz — or otherwise" (Steve Dollar, Wall Street Journal), and "one of today's most formidable bandleaders" (Francis Davis, Village Voice).
While still a teenager in the 1970s, Formanek toured with drummer Tony Williams and saxophonist Joe Henderson; starting in the '80s he played long stints with Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Fred Hersch and Freddie Hubbard. (As a callback to those days, Formanek recorded with hardbop pianist Freddie Redd in 2013). The bassist has played a pivotal role on New York's creative jazz scene going back to the '90s when he notably led his own quintet and played in Tim Berne's barnstorming quartet Bloodcount.
Fujiwara was born and raised in Boston, Mass. At the age of 7, he fell in love with music while listening to the classic drum battle record, Rich vs. Roach. After two years of studies with Joyce Kauffman, he began an eight-year course of study with legendary drummer and educator Alan Dawson. He has worked as a leader of and composer for various ensembles, as a sideman, as a composer for theatre, film, and dance, and as a teacher and clinician. With "a quiet energy that propels" (All About Jazz) and a style that is "both volatile and watchful" (New York Times), Fujiwara's "alert drumming has propelled some excellent ensembles on the new-music landscape" (New York Times).
Part of the trio's strength flows from the deep interconnecting bonds they've forged. Halvorson and Fujiwara first started playing together in cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum's Sextet. They also work together in the collective quartet Reverse Blue with Chris Speed and Eivind Opsvik, and Mike Reed's fascinating Sun Ra-inspired ensemble Living By Lanterns. They first worked with Formanek when he subbed in Bynum's band in 2011, and the chemistry between the three was so readily apparent they immediately started looking into performance opportunities as a trio.
The Jazz@Bucknell series presents international modern masters and young visionaries, showcasing the entire tradition of jazz, from standards to the avant-garde, with an eye on artists who continue the innovative tradition of the music with their personal approaches to sound, style and composition.
Future Jazz@Bucknell concerts this spring include the Nadje Noordhuis Quintet on Feb. 25 and the Linda Oh Quartet on April 8.