Thumbscrew helps Anthony Braxton celebrate 75 years by recording some of his lesser-known compositions | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Thumbscrew helps Anthony Braxton celebrate 75 years by recording some of his lesser-known compositions 

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Amy Touchette

Composer, multi-instrumentalist, educator, and conceptualist Anthony Braxton was born in Chicago on June 4, 1945, and the celebration of his 75th birthday has taken a major hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. At least nine 2020 events have been cancelled so far—the only live performance that hasn’t yet been stricken from the calendar for this year is a concert by Kobe Van Cauwenbergh’s Ghost Trance Septet that’s scheduled for Luxembourg in November. But that just makes the new Thumbscrew album, The Anthony Braxton Project, even more valuable. Everyone in the trio—guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer and vibraphonist Tomas Fujiwara, and bassist Michael Formanek—has performed and/or studied with Braxton, so they can approach his music like insiders. To make their fifth album, they went through his archives to find rarely performed compositions that suited their instrumentation. The material includes a mostly notated piece that abstracts swinging pre-bebop jazz, an antic march that erupts into slaloming detours and then snaps back into immaculate formation, and a miniature packed with intervallic leaps so broad that you might get dizzy trying to follow them. These pieces aren’t quite like anything that Thumbscrew have played together before, but the musicians’ distinct instrumental identities and inside-out awareness of one another’s moves ensure that they still sound very much like Thumbscrew.   v

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