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Live Reviews

Thomas Stronen's Time is a Blind Guide & Elephant9: Oslo, Norway, March 20-21, 2013

By Published: April 8, 2013
Even in the freest contexts, Strønen has always demonstrated a very particular sense of focus and construction, so the opportunity to hear him work in a more structured environment only served to support the sense that he is truly capable of anything. Before the concert, Strønen said he was "aiming for 60 minutes, hoping for 70 and afraid of 80." The suite went well past that, closer to 90 minutes, and yet there wasn't a wasted note; instead, it clearly felt good to the group, so Strønen simply allowed it to go wherever it would.

As the ensemble moved through the suite's many movements—and despite Strønen's goal of a collective sound (which was successfully achieved)—there were moments for individual players to shine. Downes, who has a new record, Light from Old Stars (Basho, 2013), imminent, delivered a number of impressive solos that worked within Strønen's structures while pushing the group to unexpected places; Økland, who also has a new recording in the works—this time with a full group instead of his duo with harmonium player/pianist Sigbjorn Apeland, last heard on Lysøen: Hommage à Ole Bull (ECM, 2011)—was as eloquent as ever, whether bowing with firm energy or playing so lightly as to be nearly breathing on his strings; and Vågan was, as ever, an endless wellspring of ideas and a firm but pliant anchor, but here revealing new sides to his playing that suggested the bassist with groups including the Deciders and Mellow Motif
Mellow Motif
Mellow Motif
still has plenty of surprises up his sleeve.

And Strønen, of course, was a similar fount throughout the set, instantaneously responsive to the music around him while at the same time guiding the entire ensemble through a set of music that may have sounded easy on the ears but which, under the hood, revealed far greater complexities. "From the beginning of the concert I thought, 'This is going really well, and it's an extremely nice environment,'" Strønen said. "Immediately after the concert, I could easily say to everyone that this is not the last time we'll play together; we have to move on, we have to do more and develop the music even further. I'm quite impressed with the group, how they managed to adapt to all the music and the different sceneries—with the string trio and the percussion ensemble, the piano trio and the whole ensemble. There's a lot of written material that sounds very easy, melodic and nice, but it's very complicated music with different time signatures and polyrhythms. I love to write music, I really love doing that and it's become a greater part of my life. This group represents the three things I really love: working with drum ensembles; working with piano trios; and working with strings. This group is the perfect combination."

The full house at Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria clearly agreed with Strønen. As everyone packed up and, in the case of Downes and Railton, prepared for a flight back to England while the rest of the group moved on to other gigs—including the Vossa Jazz Festival, where both Strønen and Økland had appearances scheduled— Strønen had one last reflection about this project that could have been a one-time affair, but will most certainly continue to evolve, ultimately record and hopefully present a side to the percussionist who's less known on an international level: "To me it's probably a dream come true," Strønen said, adding "but a dream I didn't know I had."

Photo Credit

All Photos: John Kelman

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