Thomas Stronen's Time is a Blind Guide & Elephant9: Oslo, Norway, March 20-21, 2013
Based on the performance, which combined heavily structured, micro-detailed passages with occasional moments of greater spontaneity, it certainly sounded like something new to the percussionist's vernacular. Not only did he present the full ensemble of piano, bass, drums, violin, cello and three percussionists, but at various points Strønen broke the octet down into various subsets, including a particularly memorable passage for the string trio of British cellist Lucy Railton, and Norwegians Nils Okland (violin, viola d'amore and Hardanger fiddle) and Ole Morten Vågannormally a muscular, Charles Mingus-informed bassist who, here, demonstrated a particularly beautiful and, for a jazz player, atypical way with a bow.
How these kinds of collaborations come together is sometimes by absolute design, but other times is the result of confluence and coincidence. "When you start a new group, I guess it's always about a number of coincidences," Strønen explained. "I don't start many new bands because I like to keep the ones I already have. I'd started talking to Fiona, and we started name-dropping people. I'd written a lot for strings, I'd written a lot for percussion ensembles and I thought it would be nice to combine that somehow. She mentioned a few names and among them was Kit Downes, on piano, and I thought that I'd remembered Kit, as he'd sent me some of his records and he was a student of [saxophonist and Food Partner] Iain [Ballamy], at the Royal Academy in England; I remember hearing him for the first time and thinking it was really nice.
"At the same time, I got a message from Ole Morten [Vågan]we'd been working together for many years in [pianist] Maria Kannegaard's trio [last documented on Camel Walk (Jazzland, 2008)], and we'd always been saying we should do more, because that trio doesn't gig that much, and we really love playing together," Strønen continued. "He's got an extremely strong rhythmical sense, and we can play really freely together and still keep the time and the different signatures, so I feel very free; and he's got a great beat, he can really play groove. So he sent me a message that he was at this festival, somewhere in Europe, and he'd heard this great pianist named Kit Downes, saying 'What do you reckon, should we contact him about doing something?' And I thought, 'Well, I have this opportunity with Conexions,' and I thought that would be a nice start, a piano trio with Kit, Ole Morten and me.
"I thought it would be nice to have someone else," continues Strønen, "but I thought if we had a reed player it would turn into a soloist thing right away and I wanted more of a collective ensemble. I'd played a duo concert with Nils Økland a few years ago and always wanted to play with him again. I thought Nils was quite obvious and I mentioned it to Kit and he said, 'Well, I play a lot with this cello player Lucy Railton' [in the pianist's group Quiet Tiger].' He was playing at a festival in Trondheim last year and I was there with Food, and then I heard Lucy play and I had a feeling that she could really work with Nils. So then we had a piano trio with two strings, and I thought, 'Now we have a piano trio as well as a trio with three strings,' and I felt it would be great to integrate a drum ensemble as well. I teach at the Royal Academy in Oslo and I have a drum ensemble there, so I picked out three drummers who I thought would work nicely together [Johan Nordh, Steinar Mossige and Jakob Jannssønn] and that was the ensemble. Luckily, I got this nice gig to write music for the ensemble, so I had a chance to write a whole concert, which is fantastic."