The Squid's Ear Magazine

Formanek, Michael: Imperfect Measures (Intakt)

Two decades after his last solo album, Michael Formanek returned to the studio to record these nine solo bass improvisations, each a profound spontaneous composition realizing structures and melodic development that incorporate journeys from abstraction into logical narrative territory as we follow the muse of a one of modern jazz' greatest bassists.

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product information:

UPC: 7640120193591

Label: Intakt
Catalog ID: ITK359.2
Squidco Product Code: 30136

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2021
Country: Switzerland
Packaging: Cardboard Gatefold 3 Panels
Recorded at Heartwood Sound Studio, in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 10th, 2017, by Ben Frock.


Michael Formanek-bass

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Descriptions, Reviews, &c.

"With his extensive artistic biography, Michael Formanek is one of the most outstanding figures in American jazz - As a composer, as a bassist in ensembles, and as a soloist. Although the bass often plays in the background, bassists write jazz history. So does Michael Formanek, who makes an impressive solo statement with Imperfect Measures (24 years after his first solo album).

About the creative process, Formanek writes: "I came to realize that for me, playing solo bass is much closer to a compositional process than a performance practice ... Any structure inherent in a piece evolves in the moment, the product of the improvisation itself - as if one were building and traveling along a road simultaneously. The road only extends as far as we are in the moment, so there must be a total commitment to what is being created and constructed in real time, lest things quickly fall apart."

The inspiring music is embedded in works by artist and illustrator Warren Linn, who created sketches during the recording process, developed them into collages/paintings, some of which are now featured in the album package designed by Stephen Byram. An absolute work of art!"-Intakt

"Michael Formanek is a a peerless genius of the rhythm, whose incredible technique and sublime ears made him one of the most respected bass players in the avant-garde jazz scene. Although he has played in all group formats, Imperfect Measures is just his second solo effort, succeeding to (Screwgun, 1999).

Having structured this work cannily, the bassist enjoys all the freedom he wants, allowing the natural flow of his musical expression to move from track to track with inner logic. The artist/illustrator Warren Linn joined him in the recording session, creating sketches that evolved into collages/paintings that are partly featured in the CD package.

"Quickdraw" initiates this sonic journey with Formanek roaming through a fast, muscular pizzicato imbued with a thrilling melodic sense; this number is followed by "On the Skin", which, easing up the pace, adds a dark and bluesy poignancy to the melody. The bassist completes the scenario with occasional intervals that help us situate within the harmonic context.

The excellent bowing skills brought to light on "A Maze" echo a sort of chant that becomes more ritualistic as it moves forward. Another conspicuous arco statement occurs in "Airborne", where Formanek shows off a wide range of action and probes a multiphonic approach that intensifies the enigmatic nature of the moment.

Percussive and reverberating, "Full Frontal" is projected with crisp attacks and sonorous timbre, with some parts of the rhythm denoting rock influences that go perfectly well with the Eastern and folk impressions in the melody. Eastern undertones are also detected with plenty of chromatic wriggling on "Notice Moments", a rhythmically interesting lament expressed with an instinctive sense of groove.

Formanek finishes off the album with "The Stand", where a palpable riff becomes the object at the center, around which everything else revolves.

In its essence, it's beside the point whether the inspiration comes from dance-rock or groove-centered jazz. Some dedication from the listeners will unlock any initial resistance involved in a solo bass storytelling of this nature. And the rewards will come."-Filipe Freitas, Jazz Trail

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Artist Biographies

"One marker of bassist Michael Formanek's creativity and versatility is the range of distinguished musicians of several generations he's worked with. While still a teenager in the 1970s he toured with drummer Tony Williams and saxophonist Joe Henderson; starting in the '80s he played long stints with Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Fred Hersch and Freddie Hubbard. (As a callback to those days, Formanek recorded with hardbop pianist Freddie Redd in 2013). The bassist has played a pivotal role on New York's creative jazz scene going back to the '90s when he notably led his own quintet and played in Tim Berne's barnstorming quartet Bloodcount. Nowadays Formanek's in the co-op Thumbscrew with Brooklyn guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara.

Formanek is also a composer and leader of various bands. His principal recording and international touring vehicle is his acclaimed quartet with Tim Berne on alto saxophone, Craig Taborn on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums, which records for ECM; 2010's The Rub and Spare Change and 2012's Small Places both earned coveted five-star raves in Down Beat. Formanek writes, and the quartet plays, compositions of great rhythmic sophistication that unfold in a natural sounding way - challenging music the players make sound like lyrical free expression. His occasional groups include the 18-piece all-star Ensemble Kolossus, roping in many New York improvisers he works with. Ensemble Kolossus recorded their first CD of all Formanek originals for the prestigious ECM label in December of 2014. The CD, The Distance was released in February 2016 and in addition to numerous other accolades also received a five-star review in Downbeat!

Formanek's other recordings as leader include Wide Open Spaces and Extended Animation for quintet and Low Profile and Nature of the Beast for seven players (all on Enja), and the solo album Am I Bothering You? (Screwgun). Mirage (Clean Feed) is by the occasional improvising trio of Formanek, tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn. Thumbscrew's 2014 debut is on Cuneiform Records. Michael Formanek has also made dozens of recordings as sideman, for among others Dave Ballou, Tim Berne, Jane Ira Bloom, Dave Burrell, Harold Danko, Marty Ehrlich, Tomas Fujiwara, Gary Thomas and Jack Walrath.

As composer of works for ensembles from duo to mixed jazz and classical orchestra, Michael Formanek has received institutional support from Chamber Music America, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, the Peabody Conservatory, the Maryland State Arts Council and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. As an educator, Formanek teaches bass and other jazz courses, and leads the Jazz Ensemble at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory."

-Michael Formanek Website (

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Track Listing:

1. Quickdraw 03:12

2. On the Skin 07:46

3. A Maze 03:34

4. Full Frontal 08:56

5. Airborne 08:46

6. Loop Back 05:52

7. Notice Moments 11:13

8. Wisp 02:48

9. The Stand 03:19

Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
NY Downtown & Metropolitan Jazz/Improv
Stringed Instruments
Solo Artist Recordings
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