Skip to main content

Jazz trio Thumbscrew celebrates 10 years together on 'Multicolored Midnight'

From the beginning, Thumbscrew has had a thing for off-kilter rhythms and shifting accents. This new album is filled with idiosyncratic tunes — music befitting of the idiosyncratic band.

This recent segment plays exclusively on
Why is this?
Due to the contractual nature of the Fresh Air Archive, segments must be at least 6 months old to be considered part of the archive. To listen to segments that aired within the last 6 months, please click the blue off-site button to visit the Fresh Air page on


Other segments from the episode on November 3, 2022

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 3, 2022: Interview with Alexandra Berzon; Review of Multicolored Midnight; Review of Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.



The first time the three members of Thumbscrew all played together, when bassist Michael Formanek subbed in a band with Mary Halvorson on guitar and Tomas Fujiwara on drums, they instantly clicked and resolved to make a band. Their new album celebrates 10 years together. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has more.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: The trio Thumbscrew from their new album "Multicolored Midnight" on the Cuneiform label. From the beginning, Thumbscrew have had a thing for off-kilter rhythms and shifting accents. Thundering bassist Michael Formanek and surefooted drummer Tomas Fujiwara can make lopsided patterns sound offhand and simpler cycles deceptively slippery. It makes for roving, restless rhythm, good stimulus for a soloist.


WHITEHEAD: This is the singular guitarist Mary Halvorson's third album of 2022. She released a pair under her own name last spring, including a particularly fine "Belladonna" for guitar and string quartet. Halvorson combines a traditional jazz guitarist pick-heavy attack with sparing but pivotal use of electronics to bend pitches and to split certain notes in two as if they're shredding unstable subatomic particles.


WHITEHEAD: Top guitarists do inspire imitators, but no one I've heard sounds like Mary Halvorson. Thumbscrew do the punchy stuff so well they could stick to that. But this is no one-trick band especially now that Tomas Fujiwara sometimes swaps out his drums for vibraphone. That opens up the texture. And bassist Michael Formanek might pick up his bow to play low, moaning melody to emphasize that sonic expanse. The trio becomes a chamber ensemble.


WHITEHEAD: So the music's not all about showcasing guitar. Vibraphone, in place of drums, gives Thumbscrew a bright, instrumental color to play with. And it's not like they need drums to drive them on. They're self-propelled.


WHITEHEAD: A decade on with seven records to their credit, Thumbscrew sound like they're still growing even as they consolidate their gains. Sometimes, the trio'll play music by other jazz composers from Benny Golson to Anthony Braxton. But they do best, as on the new "Multicolored Midnight," when they play their own material, idiosyncratic tunes to fit an idiosyncratic band.


DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the book "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film." He reviewed "Multicolored Midnight," the new CD by the band Thumbscrew. Coming up, David Bianculli reviews the musical biopic parody "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" starring Daniel Radcliffe. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF RARE EARTH SONG, "HEY BIG BROTHER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


He's edited Caro, le Carré and 'Catch-22,' but doesn't mind if you don't know his name

At 91, Robert Gottlieb is perhaps the most acclaimed book editor of his time. He started out in 1955 and has been working in publishing ever since. The list of authors he's edited include Robert Caro, Joseph Heller, Toni Morrison, John le Carré, Katharine Graham, Bill Clinton, Nora Ephron and Michael Crichton. His daughter Lizzie Gottlieb's new film, Turn Every Page, centers on her father's decades-long editing relationship with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Caro.


Sleekly sentimental, 'Living' plays like an 'Afterschool Special' for grownups

Living, is a sleekly sentimental new British drama adapted by Kazuo Ishiguro from Akira Kurosawa's classic 1952 film Ikiru, which means "to live" in Japanese. Starring the great Bill Nighy, it tells the story of a bottled-up bureaucrat in 1950s London who's led to examine the way he's spent the last 30 years of his life.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue