By Dave Cantor | Published November 2019
If the collaborative endeavor Thumbscrew wasn’t enough to demonstrate the way bassist Michael Formanek and guitarist Mary Halvorson excel in each other’s company, Even Better is further proof.
Formanek’s career has been stippled with stints heading his own troupes, and for this latest trio, in addition to Halvorson, he’s tapped exploratory reedist Tim Berne to join in. Each player here’s known for bounding experimentation, and while Berne’s in the spotlight a bit less than Halvorson, closer “Jade Visions” is a gorgeous excursion headed by the saxophonist’s register hopping. It’s a tune penned by bassist Scott LaFaro (1936–’61), and played as tribute, the whole thing predicated on the trio wending its way through the melody, Berne measuredly out front. When he drops out, though, Halvorson and Formanek duet for about a minute in some sort of tempered, all-knowing, slow-paced excavation of beauty.
The bassist’s Very Practical Trio—its purpose hinted at by both its name, as well as the music on Even Better—clearly isn’t about avant-garde heroics and displays of technical acumen. Even the most outré moments, including the eight weird minutes of “Implausible Deniability,” seem quiet, insular and personal, pointing at the wonderland of associates with whom Formanek has developed an undeniable rapport during a truly momentous career.