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Thomas Strønen: Sense of Time

Enrico Bettinello By

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AAJ: What projects do you have for Food the band you co-lead with Iain Ballamy?

TS: In the fall, we did a multitrack recording, as well as a video, at The Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum, in Oslo. We have just made an edit and a raw mix of the music and we will turn that into a concert film. Where and how, is yet to be decided, but the images are amazing and the music isn't too bad either.

AAJ: The duet Humcrush with Ståle Storløkken has recently published one of its best records, Enter Humcrush. Tell us more about duet and, more generally, about the use of electronics in your music: how do you work on this, what is your equipment and what's the relationship between your acoustic playing and electronics?

TS: Humcrush is one of my longest lasting projects. It dates back to the time I studied jazz in Trondheim. Ståle and I have a mutual understanding about form and time, and so I find it very easy to play with him. We have always improvised freely and somehow what we play ends up sounding like a real tune, like on our latest record Enter Humcrush.

I always try to incorporate electronics in my playing. Music comes first. It's easy to bury oneself in an ivory tower of equipment and possibilities, but I've always tried to focus on my needs to create the music I want. Everything is possible, but everything isn't necessary. I normally use two hardware samplers and a mixer and one or two small synths. I have a few sampled sounds on my samplers, but most of it gets created on the spot. All programming of beats and sounds are always done live. I enjoy playing with the samplers as it gives you an ability to stretch the beats and make odd grooves and textures that you can't do acoustically. If something can easily be played live, I play it. I don't put all my trust in the machines, they are a just another tool to expand my musical output.

AAJ: Let's talk about the so-called "Nordic sound." Sometimes I'm a little embarrassed in touching upon this topic with Norwegian musicians, but knowing you personally and artistically, I think that you could be really a clever point of view. After decades of quiet, spacious, landscape-like, frozen, echoed, detailed "Nordic jazz" what are the "limits" of this concept?

TS: This term has been well used for as long as I can remember, but I don't think you find many Norwegians using it. Just like other general terms like "American Jazz" it does describe something that gives us an immediate but generic picture of what we are talking about. I'm tempted to say that our project is beyond the limits of Nordic jazz, but at least over here there are boundaries for what is musically substantial. Space with quiet and lyrical playing doesn't make good music. That often gets cheesy. The more open, quiet and spacious the music is, the greater is the need for dramaturgy, dynamics and resistance. The music needs to move within space. There is a significant difference between space and a break.

Much of Norwegian jazz music came to life because we were strongly influenced by the jazz played in the US, but we also grew up listening to rock music, classical music and early electronic music. There weren't many rules of what was right and wrong and the jazz history in Norway started at the time when US jazz was becoming freer and, at the same time, incorporating elements of rock music.

Being in the outskirts of Europe, Norway wasn't always the most natural country to visit for touring stars, so being a bit left out makes you sometimes do things your own way. In Denmark the situation is very different, being more centred and also much more visited by touring musicians. Denmark has been quite Americanized compared to Norway. Even in Norway, musicians' who's been into playing the more traditional jazz way, have looked over to Denmark top find companions.

AAJ: Three historical drummers/percussionist on your top list?

TS: Jon Christensen, Tony Oxley and Roy Haynes

AAJ: Three contemporary drummers/percussionists on your top list?

TS: Nihon Daiko Drum Ensemble, Steve Reich as composer for percussions, and Jorge Pena.

AAJ: If you should suggest three records of yours to really understand your music, what would you choose?

TS: The latest Time Is a Blind Guide's record, Lucus, Enter Humcrush and Food's This Is Not a Miracle.

AAJ: What are you listening to these days?

TS: A wide range of music... A Seat at the Table by Solange, Nattsyntese by Espen Reinertsen, The Study of Touch by Django Bates, Malibu by Anderson Paak, Kendrick Lamar's Damn, Project vol. 4-Hamburg Concert by György Ligeti, Process by Sampha, Garland by Eivind Buene and Miles Davis Live at the Fillmore.

AAJ: Your next projects?

TS: I cannot reveal everything, but I'm making a record this spring time with a fairly new trio together with Ayumi on piano and Marthe Lea on saxophone, clarinet, percussion, voice. I'm also writing for a larger version of Time Is a Blind Guide. There is also a new trio on the block, with Keiji Haino and Koichi Makigami. But, first priority this year will be Time Is a Blind Guide. We'll be touring in Italy in mid-April, in the United Kingdom in late May, in the US in late June, Brazil in August as well as India in December.

Photo credit: Knut Bry

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