Label: ECM, 2018
Lineup – Thomas Stronen: drums; Ayumi Tanaka: piano; Hakon Aase: violin; Lucy Railton: cello; Ole Morten Vagan: bass.
Norwegian drummer/composer Thomas Stronen, a member of the experimental jazz band Food, returns with a quintet variation of his Time Is A Bling Guide project. Entitled Lucus, the 11-track album features the collective’s core members: violinist Hakon Aase, cellist Lucy Railton, and bassist Ole Morten Vagan, plus a valuable new addition with the up-and-coming Japanese pianist Ayumi Tanaka sitting in for Kit Downs. Also noticeable is the absence of the two percussionists that helped to carry out the rhythmic flow of the previous album.
An ethereal chamber setting is immediately assimilated on the first track, “La Bella”, a reiterative meditation of great beauty that, suspended and static in nature, varies in intensity. All the compositions belong to Stronen, except this one, penned in conjunction with Aase and Vagan.
“Release” is a floating, semiopaque exercise whose energy keeps being adjusted according to the artists’ interactions. Besides the bandleader’s exposed brushwork, one can detect short-lived buzzing sounds of strings, lyric violin appeal (bowed and plucked), and pianistic craftsmanship in the form of permeating rhythmic dots or prearranged melodic waves.
Tanaka propitiates greater harmonic definition on the title track, which achieves a pleasurable consonance with the understated sound of the strings and the ingratiating movements locked down by bass and drums.
“Fugitive Places”, inspired by Anne Michael’s novel of the same name, opens with nocturnal moods set by violin and cello, passing through a contemplative phase defined by sparse solo piano, and ending in a cohesive unification as the remaining musicians join in. If there’s no case for haste here with the low-key posture adopted, “Baka”, in opposition, opens with stirring thumps, injects motivating rhythmic accentuation, and appeals to playfulness. Nevertheless, it was with the idiosyncratic arrangement of “Wednesday” that the band captivated me the most, showcasing classical piano spells and beautiful folk melodies instilled by Aase. It all ends up engulfed by a gallant groove in five.
Exhaling non-Western scents, “Tension” starts off with Vagan’s open discourse and only vaguely brings what its title discloses. In turn, both “Truth Grows Gradually” and “Islay” deliver an admirable breezy liveliness. The latter showcases another fabulous moment by Tanaka, who interrupts the rhythmic flow with rampant voicings and infuses unexpected crosscurrent responses to plucked violin embellishments.
Stronen gives his counterparts the freedom they need to totally connect with his spacious sense of composition, and Lucus lives from the harmony of their constant exchanges.
01 - La Bella ► 07 - Wednesday ► 10 - Islay