First studio album from Nordic jazz supergroup led by drummer Strønen
Martin Longley 2005
Parish appears to be the name of Thomas Strønen's band, besides being used as an album title. This is a cross-generational quartet with a membership that's split equally between Norwegian and Swedish players. Strønen established his UK reputation as the drummer for Food, an Anglo-Norwegian outfit that also included saxophonist Iain Ballamy. That band is now off the menu, and Strønen's new venture is more concerned with a completely acoustic expression.
Parish came together in 2001, releasing a live album for the Dutch label Challenge, but there is a feeling that they view this set as a fuller development of the band's sound. Bassist Mats Eilertsen is the other youngish member, with pianist Bobo Stenson representing well-travelled experience, and reedsman Fredrik Ljungkvist inhabiting the early stages of middle age. Musically, the members of Parish are deeply sympathetic, operating largely in the whispering zone of extreme sensitivity and chamber attentiveness.
The album begins very quietly, with a careful dialogue between piano and percussion, the bandleader establishing his preference for fleeting cymbal caresses and detailed woodblock clusters. After this brief improvisation (the first of three), Ljungkvist enters for a four-part "Suite For Trio". This opalescent meditation continues the attention to microscopic gestures, with piano and clarinet holding hands for the melody lines whilst Strønen develops his raindrop-pattering techniques.
The second improvisation finds Ljungkvist adopting a capering clarinet progress that reminds the listener of John Surman's rambling adventures. Strønen's composition "Easta" (he's naturally the main writer on this disc) has a surprisingly conventional jazz feel, easing along with a very slow swinging motion, highlighting Stenson's piano line. Eilertsen relishes his only overt solo at the beginning of "Quartz", which just happens to be penned by the bassist.
As the album progresses, it gets close to running out of ideas, but is just saved during the final sequence of pieces. "In Motion" comes as a shock, thirteen tracks in, causing the listener to wake with a start as it perkily introduces what almost sounds like a South African township melody. This is followed straight away by Ljungkvist's "C Moll Maj", which benefits from some sprightly interaction between the composer's halting clarinet, Stenson's spaced-out piano jabs and Strønen's organically mechanical percussion. These pieces represent a late-stage reawakening for this sometimes drifting journey.