While Parish's first album, the live Rica (Challenge, 2003), was more collaborative from a compositional perspective, the group's new eponymous record continues to be the brainchild of Norwegian percussionist Thomas Strønen. With strong players like fellow Norwegian double-bassist Mats Eilertsen, Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson and clarinetist/saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist, Parish couldn't be anything but highly collaborative. The sixteen tracks on the new record may be considerably shorter than the extended workouts on Rica, but this time the bulk of the actual writingwhich contrasts with a series of free improvisations that appropriately fit the definition of spontaneous compositionbelongs to Strønen.
The drummer is a co-founder of Food, one half of Humcrush, and an increasingly in-demand player as comfortable in the extremes of electronica as he is Parish's more organic context. Strønen is Norway's answer to British free drummer Tony Oxley. Like Oxley, he expands on the conventional drum kit to include all manner of hand percussion and found objects that sometimes make his contributions feel like abstract clutter. But make no mistake about it. Strønen's contributions may at times sound random, and on Parish a defined groove is the exception rather than the rule, but it's really a matter of his viewing his instrument as an orchestral partner, rather than a role-restricted half-brother.
That's not to say he avoids clear rhythm entirely. The gentle "Easta" could easily fit into trumpeter Tomasz Stanko's recent Suspended Night. Though Stenson may be thousands of miles from the source, he's not unfamiliar with the American jazz tradition, and he and Ljungkvist inject their own sense of blues. The buoyantly exuberant 12/8 groove of "In Motion," with Ljungkvist on tenor, is a clear homage to Keith Jarrett's European Quartet of the 1970s. And while the melancholy "Daddycation" is a rubato tone poem where time is more fluid, its folkloric element mirrors drummer Paul Motian's own compositional references to his Armenian background.
Elsewhere, however, things are more abstruse. The four-part "Suite for Trio," which features Strønen, Stenson and Ljundkvist, feels more like spontaneous composition than a preconceived notion, with the exception of "Part I," based on a simple and almost playful melodic fragment by Ljungkvist. At times occupying dark, brooding, space-filled territory ("Part IV"), the trio is also capable of greater extremes on the more angular "Part II" and "Part III."
Parish demonstrates many dichotomies. The musicians come from two distinct but related cultures. The music ranges from abstract and angular to defined and lyrical. The approach is equal parts form and freedom. Still, not only do these players share a clear simpatico, but they follow a specific direction from Strønen, who, while still in his early thirties, is emerging as a remarkably inventive and diverse player, writer and bandleader at an increasingly accelerated pace.
Personnel: Bobo Stenson: piano; Fredrik Ljungkvist: clarinet, tenor saxophone; Mats Eilertsen: double-bass; Thomas Strønen: drums.