born May 7, 1958
|Birthplace||San Francisco, California|
- Brown's Town - Kenny Dorham Swing (medium)
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 principal recording and international touring vehicle is his quartet with Tim Berne on alto saxophone, Craig Taborn on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums, which records for the ECM label; 2010's "The Rub And Spare Change" and 2012's "Small Places" both earned coveted five-star raves in Downbeat. Formanek writes, and the quartet plays, compositions of great rhythmic sophistication that unfold in a natural sounding way – challenging music that the players make sound like lyrical free expression. He also leads 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, "The Distance" for ECM in December of 2014; released in February 2016, it also received a five-star review in Downbeat.
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 a leader feature a wide variety of instrumentations, including two quintet and two septet albums in the early '90s for the Enja label. He has also released two solo bass albums. In 2019 he recorded "Dyads" - a duo album with his son, tenor saxophonist Peter Formanek; his 2020 album "Were We Where We Were" features his Drome Trio with tenor saxophonist Chet Doxas and drummer Vinnie Sperazza. Thumbscrew, a collaborative trio featuring Michael with guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, has released six albums on the Cuneiform label since 2013. 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 an educator, Formanek continues to teach bass, composition, and improvisation in a wide range of locations in the US as well as internationally.