Thomas Stronen's Time is a Blind Guide & Elephant9: Oslo, Norway, March 20-21, 2013
Strønen is best known, perhaps, as a co-conspirator with British saxophonist Iain Ballamy in the ongoing group Foodnow celebrating 15 years together and last heard on record with the superb Mercurial Balm (ECM, 2013)and similarly as a partner in crime with Elephant9 keyboardist Ståle Storløkken (he does get around) in Humcrush, whose most recent recording, Ha! (Rune Grammofon, 2012), documented an ongoing collaboration with intrepid vocal artist Sidsel Endresen. But if these two projects are all about in-the-moment improvisations of a very different kind, Strønen's Conexions showwhich brought together five additional Norwegians with two British musiciansdemonstrated that he's as capable of wonderful writing as he is boundary-pushing improvisation.
"There was a lot of tension building up to this show, because I've been working on this for six months," Strønen revealed after the show. "There's a lot of written material, and I've been trying grooves and drums and bringing out all the harmonics on the piano and checking how the music sounds on the cello and the violin. I think it worked out fantastically; the group managed to play the material, a lot of which is quite difficult, and I felt that it really opened up. Everyone relaxed. I'm happy."
Strønen's suite was called Time is a Blind Guide, a rather unusual, evocative and provocative title. "It has many sides," Strønen explained. "First of all, Canadian author Anne Michaels has written a book called Fugitive Pieces (McClelland & Stewart, 1996), and if you open to the first page of the book, that's the first sentence. I read this book for the first time a couple of years ago, and I remembered that it was fantastic. This past summer I was going through my booksI'm quite into reading, I'm quite into literature, semantics and languageand I thought, 'I'll read this again,' as I'd remembered it being really, really good. And it was just at this time that I'd started writing the music, so in the daytime I would compose music and in the evenings I read this book. I finished it, and I thought, 'This is so well written, I'm going to read it one more time.' So I did, and the language is just fantastic; I thought that this sentence, 'Time is a blind guide'; I'm not going to put words into it, but it has to do with music, it has to do with life, with literature...whatever you want to read into it."
Now in its second season, Conexions is the brainchild of Fiona Talkington, but those who know her also know that when she works with musicians to come up with ideas for her series, it's a truly collaborative affair, one where she presents her ideas and then gives the artists complete freedom to turn them into something tangible. "First of all, Fiona is a fantastic person," Strønen recounted. "I met her for the first time, it must have been 1998 or '99, and I just remembered that she was always there when we played in Britain with Food, and she was interested in presenting the band. We're spoiled in Norway, having the National Radio broadcasting music like that, and it was really fantastic that she was into the music that we played. She presented us a couple of times when it was a quartet with [trumpeter] Arve Henriksen and Iain [Ballamy], and I got to know her a bit. After that she came to Norway quite often and she's been very interested in the music, in presenting, and in bringing people together.