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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Thomas Strønen – Time is a Blind Guide @ Sage Gateshead. May 20

Thomas Strønen (percussion), Kit Downes (piano), Lucy Railton (cello), Håka Aase (violin) & Ole Morten Vågan (double bass)
(Review by Russell/Photo courtesy of Ken Drew).
A busy Friday evening at Sage Gateshead – the Royal Northern Sinfonia in Sage One, the soulful Laura Mvula playing to a standing-room-only crowd in Sage Two and the Anglo-Norwegian project of Thomas Strønen and friends in the Northern Rock Foundation Hall.  
The cabaret-style layout in the flexible studio space of the Northern Rock helps engender an informal air, making the connection between performer and audience more immediate. Percussionist Thomas Strønen’s Time is a Blind Guide project recorded an album a year or so ago and it is only now that the musicians were able to commit to a short tour such is the busy schedule of all concerned. This Sage Gateshead date, the first of four concerts in four days (London, Birmingham and Norwich to follow), renewed Strønen’s connections with the Borough of Gateshead. 
The tall, tanned percussionist recalled a gig at Caedmon Hall with Iain Ballamy in their Food days, long before the Norman Foster-designed Sage Gateshead first laid its foundations. Time is a Blind Guide (its inspiration Anne Michaels' novel Fugitive Pieces) is an elegant conception. Countrymen Håka Aase (violin) and Ole Morten Vågan (double bass) share Strønen’s cool Nordic mindset; still, at rest, listening. The quintet’s British component – Kit Downes (piano) and cellist Lucy Railton – have a clear empathy for the music, similarly stilled, at rest, yet fully engaged.
Baka, The Drowned City and Lost Souls – three pieces, without pause, to open the concert with Strønen’s subsequent observation: Cheerful and positive! The Norwegian was aware that the music was anything but foot-tapping Dr Jazz material. He referred to the current tour as a tour of ‘cultural capitals’. Sage Gateshead, Kings Place, London, CBSO Centre, Birmingham and Norwich Playhouse succeed as bastions of culture making possible gigs such as Strønen’s Time is a Blind Guide. A final piece (Fugitive Pieces) developed from a typical minimalist opening to something approaching sophisticated swing via Strønen’s virtuosic brush work. The Jazz Police went home satisfied.
Tell Tale: David Ferris (piano), James Banner (double bass) & Ric Yarborough (drums)
Earlier, a support set featured the Birmingham-based trio Tell Tale. Recent graduates of the Birmingham Conservatoire hot house, this half hour set proved to be a real bonus. Structured improv (rehearsed to the nth) drawing on Dostoyevsky, Conlon Nancarrow – Numbers (for Conlon), comp. James Banner – and French impressionist painter Corot, Tell Tale maintained the ‘High Art’ connection, a million crochets away from N’Awlins.    
Russell.

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