I declare not so much a bias but a certain trust – if my spirits lift when an album from Thomas Strønen pops through my letter box it is because the Norwegian drummer, percussionist and composer hasn’t let me down yet.
And he certainly doesn’t with the music written for this Anglo-Norwegian group. Kit Downes is on piano, there is a string trio of Håkon Aase on violin, Lucy Railton on cello and Ole Morten Vågan on double bass, and the percussion section augmented by Siv Øyunn Kjenstad and Steinar Mossige.
Strønen and Downes clearly have built a rapport and their co-composed Everything Disappears is an early highlight. But some of the most magical moments come when Stronen has the strings in the forefront, piano and percussion limited to passing support, as in Pipa, which has the delicacy and quiet formality of a Japanese sand garden.
Railton and Vågan take the reins early on in I Don’t Wait For Anyone, with Downes following with a gorgeous solo over an increasingly urgent bass and drums cushion before some choppy formality takes us back to the melody. The Far Eastern feel returns in The Drowned City with its gongs and ultra-low beats; Lost Souls is a real gem, with a melody that sticks in the ear and a lovely group control of dynamics; the title track has a great drums and percussion opening and then broadens into a piece which somehow suggests both Eastern and Celtic influences, led by Aase.
Strønen explains that he wanted this to be a purely acoustic group so he uses the percussionists as the equivalent of his sampler in the band Food. “They play solid grooves so I can either play very freely on top, or simply play less when I choose to.” The leader’s fondness for melody together with complex rhythms – “it’s melodic music with a twist” – make this a beguiling album with many hidden depths to explore over the coming months and years.
I missed this band at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival last year, and I’m missing Strønen with Food this evening in Birmingham. This and the new Food album (reviewed here) are my consolations for such bad planning.
Categories: CD review