Thomas Strønen: Parish (ECM 1870)


Thomas Strønen

Fredrik Ljungkvist clarinet, tenor saxophone
Bobo Stenson piano
Mats Eilertsen double-bass
Thomas Strønen drums
Recorded April 2004 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Parish, in title and in name, presents one of a handful of side projects by the prolific jazz drummer and composer Thomas Strønen, who along with reedman Fredrik Ljungkvist, pianist Bobo Stenson, and bassist Mats Eilertsen elicits a holistic brand of chamber jazz. This is Strønen’s first appearance on ECM. His collaborations with saxophonist Iain Ballamy as Food have since yielded two further albums for the label—Quiet Inlet and Mercurial Balm—both of which forge a more ambient, electronically savvy sound-world. Here the emphasis is on acoustic textures, soft yet sure in their possibilities.

Parish Portrait

Admirers of Paul Bley will feel right at home in the delicate suspension bridges walked from beginning to end. Accordingly, the album builds on crystalline foundations, each impulse a new spine jutting from the core. Most of those impulses take form spontaneously, as in the three “Improvisations” peppered throughout. In them are wrought the band’s artistic strengths: Ljungkvist’s charcoal, Eilertsen’s primary colors, Strønen’s filigree, and Stenson’s pointillism. Ljungkvist swaps clarinet for tenor saxophone for a few of these canvases, including the rubato “Daddycation” and the shot-of-espresso happiness of “In motion,” which swings as if simply to prove that the group can, although he seems to prefer the darker reed.

Combinations range from solo (“Travel I” and “Travel II” feature Strønen shifting across colorfully percussive terrains) to trio and full quartet combinations. Of the latter, “Quartz” is an especially enchanting example. Not only does it deepen the crystal metaphor; it also, more than any other portion of the album, grows beyond the sum of its parts. The four-part “Suite For Trio” elides the bass for a significant spell, tripping but always regaining equilibrium on its way toward the veiled final movement. This is complemented by “Easta,” which evokes the mythology of the standard piano trio, thus laying fertile ground for incantation. Like the track “Nu” that concludes things, it signs it name with a splash of melody—just enough to whet the appetite.

Sparse but never deflated, Parish balance in negative spaces and hugs the ether as a parent would a child, waiting for the quiet reciprocation of having been heard.

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