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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Thumbscrew - Never Is Enough (Cuneiform Records, 2021) ****½


By Anthony Simon

We listen to music for many reasons: to relax, for inspiration, to connect to feelings both held deeply within and shared among others—the reasons are manifold. The critically-praised works of Thumbscrew have offered satisfaction in all these ways and more, and they continue to build on their impressive oeuvre with a sixth album of all-original compositions titled Never Is Enough. A widely-revered trio of diverse artistic statements and virtuosic playing, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, bassist Michael Formanek, and guitarist Mary Halvorson each contribute three pieces to this album, recorded during the same sessions that resulted in their brilliant tribute The Anthony Braxton Project (Cuneiform Records, 2020).

Fujiwara’s “Camp Easy” begins the album by conjuring visions of strolling through a grassy meadow, but with a kind of wobbly giddiness imparted by Halvorson’s signature slippery sound. The rhythm has a lumbering propulsion, and folksy melodies feel like warm sunlight on your face. The second track, composed by Halvorson, takes us into driving rock territory, delightfully askew with discordant harmonies from the guitar and a melodic line anthemically declared by Formanek’s electric bass. His excellent double bass playing is frequently featured on this project through inspired soloing, sound mixing that puts his instrument prominent and clear, and the judicious use of electric bass on a couple tracks widens his sonic palette in service of the song. A mesmerizing example of the latter is his brooding composition “Scam Likely,” which has us drifting in an extra-terrestrial sonic drone, sparsely punctuated by sundry percussive taps and textures from the masterful Fujiwara. When Halvorson enters with chiming notes that announce and uplift, the percussion gradually combusts before the song eventually returns to the hazy electric space from which it arose.

Never Is Enough can be challenging in all the satisfying ways that devotees of creative music crave, but its occasional touchpoints in rock’s rhythm and structures will give it an appeal to a wider audience. This music is beautifully communal, with each member equally sharing their unique voice to create an artistic statement that indeed may never be enough.