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!
“…a true virtuoso bassist” Pulse
“the formidable American bass-player Michael Formanek’s solo set ranks with the great solo bass performances.”
“…deep propulsion, big beefy tone, a strong sense of line, individuality expressed through avoiding the expected.”
“Mr. Formanek, on bass, has solid intonation, riffing hard and engaging horns and drums in genuinely melodic counterpoint.”
New York Times
“Formanek is a musician first: his wonderful technique is always subjugated to the higher goal of making interesting art…Formanek is riveting.” Cadence
“… a sound player who articulates with precision, produces a big, solid tone, and boasts rock-steady time.” Bass Player
On his 1997 solo recital Am I Bothering You? he compresses his conception, finding insinuating melodies and hypnotic timbres, developing them thematically, always with amiable gusto and impeccable technique. Downbeat
“Formanek’s virtuosic command of his bass, which allowed him to simultaneously pluck walking lines and bow resonant accents, sometimes made him sound like two players at once .” The Chicago Tribune
“...Formanek combines rhythmic muscle and lyrical fluidity - and endless creativity.“ Chicago Sun Times
“Formanek's sound never failed to glow, and his rhythmic sense ensured a conversational flow.” The Boston Globe