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Thomas Strønen/Ayumi Tanaka/Marthe Lea - Bayou (ECM)

25 May 2021

Drummer Thomas Strønen has a wide-ranging resumé, moving from his electronic groove project Food with saxophonist Iain Bellamy to his jazz-soaked chamber ensemble Time is a Blind Guide. For the album Bayou, he explores free improvisation with pianist Ayumi Tanaka and clarinetest and singer Marthe Lea.

One thing all of Strønen’s music has in common is atmosphere. His work always has a distinct aura, and Bayou is no exception – austere but rich, quiet but urgent. Though the music was collectively improvised (with the exception of the title track, which is based on a Norwegian folk tune), the trio avoids discord – everyone plays with like minds, seeking out spontaneous melodies and arrangements and sticking to them. That doesn’t mean dissonance doesn’t come into play – the way Tanaka’s piano stabs push Lea’s winding clarinet moans in “Eyre,” while Strønen fills in the empty space, makes it clear that this group isn’t looking toward yoga studio sonority. But the gentle push of “Nahla,” the deliberate exploration of “Como” and the haunted beauty of Lea’s unaccompanied vocal solo “Bayou II” denote a search for elegant grace, even if the musicians started with a blank slate when the record light went on.