It bears repeating that this list is in no way based on a comprehensive assessment of the 2014’s deluge of new music, but rather personal highs in a year’s worth of listening. A whole lot of listening; all said it was a great 12 months, and after consideration these final five offered the most pleasure.
5. Mary Halverson, Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara, Thumbscrew
Three improvisers in a leaderless trio (Thumbscrew effectively serves as the name of the group) with energies focused on composition; the result will certainly appeal to fans of all three players and those into adventurous jazz and rock in general (it’s fittingly released by the Cuneiform label of Silver Spring, MD).
Bluntly, these are heavyweight players. My first exposure to guitarist Halvorson came via Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant, and once I discovered she’d studied and performed with Anthony Braxton, I began seeking out the work of her trio; ‘08’s Dragon’s Head remains a favorite. Bassist Formanek has a bunch of impressive “inside” credits and a ton of avant-garde session work, and along with his own high-quality quintet he was in Tim Berne’s Bloodcount. Drummer Fujiwara has worked at length with Halvorson, in a duo with cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and as leader of Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up.
Thumbscrew is not a guitar trio, though Halvorson does shred early and often. As said Thumbscrew is a unit of equality and their communicative sparks can be startling; Formanek and Fujiwara are constantly throwing ideas into the fray with nary a rhythm section trope in the duration. And a few of the track titles make me smile, particularly “Goddess Sparkle,” which could be about either Aurora of the dawn or drag shows, and “Still…Doesn’t Swing,” a nutshell encapsulation of the resistance creative musicians of this caliber routinely contend with, malarkey that doesn’t seem to be keeping them down.