Time Is A Blind Guide - Lucus

Thomas Strønen

Norwegian drummer/composer Thomas Strønen presents a revised edition of his acoustic collective Time Is A Blind Guide, now trimmed to quintet size, and with a new pianist in Wakayama-born Ayumi Tanaka. Tanaka has spoken of seeking associative connections between Japan and Norway in her improvising, a tendency Strønen seems to be encouraging with his space-conscious writing for the ensemble, letting in more light. As on the group’s eponymously-titled and critically-lauded debut album there are excellent contributions from the string players – the quintet effectively contains both a string trio and a piano trio – and Manfred Eicher’s production brings out all the fine detail in the grain of the collective sound and the halo of its overtones, captured in the famously-responsive acoustic of Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo in March 2017.
Der norwegische Schlagzeuger und Komponist Thomas Strønen präsentiert eine Neuauflage seines Akustik-Kollektivs Time Is A Blind Guide, das er nun zu Quintett-Größe verdichtet und um die in Wakayama geborene Pianistin Ayumi Tanaka erweitert hat. In ihren Improvisationen knüpft Tanaka assoziative Verbindungen zwischen Japan und Norwegen – eine Richtung, in die Strønen mit seinen Kompositionen, ihrer räumlichen Wirkung in hohem Maße bewusst, ermutigend zu weisen scheint. Für die Gruppe einst namengebend, zeugte bereits das Debütalbum von den herausragenden Streichern, die zum Erfolg des Quintetts in variabler Konstellation – als Streichtrio oder als Klaviertrio – beitragen. Eingefangen mit der agilen Akustik des Auditorio Stelio Molo in Lugano im März 2017, bringt Produzent Manfred Eicher jede Faser des Klanggewebes behutsam zu Gehör.
Featured Artists Recorded

March-April 2017, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano

Original Release Date


  • 1La Bella
    (Håkon Aase, Ole Morten Vågan, Thomas Strønen)
  • 2Friday
    (Thomas Strønen)
  • 3Release
    (Thomas Strønen)
  • 4Lucus
    (Thomas Strønen)
  • 5Fugitive Places
    (Thomas Strønen)
  • 6Baka
    (Thomas Strønen)
  • 7Wednesday
    (Thomas Strønen)
  • 8Tension
    (Thomas Strønen)
  • 9Truth Grows Gradually
    (Thomas Strønen)
  • 10Islay
    (Thomas Strønen)
  • 11Weekend
    (Thomas Strønen)
Mit repetitiven Figuren, flächigen Klängen und spärlichen  Solopassagen bewegt sich die Musik von Time Is A Blinde Guide im Spannungsfeld zwischen Jazz, Minimal Music und Klassik. Schlagzeuger Thomas Strønen ist ein Meister der leisen, aber treibenden Beats und die japanische Pianistin Ayumi Tanaka tupft ihre Soli manchmal wie nebenbei in die Tasten.
 Bernhard Jugel, Bayerischer Rundfunk
With ‘Lucus’, the reflective, somber, and gentle timbres of composer/drummer Thomas Strønen and his ensemble, Time Is a Blind Guide, bring to mind poet T.S. Eliot's line, ‘Winter kept us warm.’ And even as the cold Norwegian waves rise up or lap gently against the rocks along this craggy musical shore, ‘Lucus’ elicits warmth, like a crackling fire on an windswept icy day. There's a chamber appeal to this music. That's only natural given the use of the violin, cello and double bass. But this music is much more than that. It's an inspired yet moving expression of Norwegian chamber jazz.
Don Phipps, All About Jazz
Das Schlüsselstück auf ‚Lucus‘ befindet sich in der Mitte des Albums. In ‚Fugitive Pieces‘ schält das fünfköpfige Akustik-Kollektiv Time Is A Blind Guide aus einer nordisch-melancholischen Streicherfigur eine japanisch-mystische Klangwelt. Dieser Brückenschlag ist das erklärte Ziel von Thomas Strønen – und sein größter Trumpf auf diesem Release. Die in Wakayama geborene Pianistin Ayumi Tanaka ist neu an Bord und drückt den elf Stücken ihren zarten Stempel auf. Die Kombination aus Streichern und Piano funktioniert hier ganz hervorragend. […] Strønen selbst, der zehn der Stücke alleinverantwortlich geschrieben hat, unterstreicht mit ‚Lucus‘ seine Qualität als Innovator. Eingefangen mit der agilen Akustik des Auditorio Stelio Molo in Lugano im März 2017, bringt Produzent Manfred Eicher den Zauber dieser Einspielung behutsam zur Geltung. ‚Lucus‘, die lateinische Bezeichnung für einen Gottheit geweihten Hain oder eine Waldlichtung, ist ein Trip in unbekannte Klangwelten. Und das inspirierende Werk eines Kollektivs, das sich in einem steten Prozess der Veränderung befindet.
Sebastian Meißner, Soundsandbooks.com
On the second album that Thomas Strønen has recorded with his band Time Is A Blind Guide, the Norwegian drummer offers a highly improvised program that is challenging, accessible and hypnotic. The ensemble pursues an aesthetic that draws upon many genres, including jazz, folk, baroque (and other European classical styles), new music, avant-garde sounds, film scores and traditional Japanese music. […]. Listening to this 52-minute program is akin to strolling through an art exhibition in which some of the musical segments are serene landscapes and others are “action” paintings by Abstract Expressionists. Overall, this sonic journey is a rewarding one.
Bobby Reed, Downbeat (Editor’s Pick)
As on the group's eponymously-titled and critically-lauded debut album there are excellent contributions from the string players - the quintet effectively containing both a string trio and a piano trio - and Manfred Eicher's production brings out all the fine detail in the collective’s sound. […] And yet it's the lightness of touch that makes the most lasting impression, the willingness to dart from almost brutish displays to the most small, intricate offering keeping you fully focused throughout.
Stephen Reid, Sea of Tranquility
Schon der Bandname Time Is A Blind Guide ist außergewöhnlich. Und die Musik, die der Norweger Thomas Strønen schreibt, passt nun in gar keine Schublade. Ein ‚klassisches‘ Klaviertrio mit Ayumi Tanaka (Klavier), Hakon Aase (Violine) und Lucy Shelton (Cello), tritt auf mit Ole Morten Vagan am Kontrabass und dem Komponisten am Schlagzeug. Doch das Quintett nervt nicht mit närrischem Treiben, sondern zieht den Hörer mit einer feingliedrigen Kammermusik in seine eigene Welt. Das genaue Gegenteil zu akustischem Fastfood.
Lothar Brandt, Audio
Whether you listen on CD or vinyl, ‘Lucus’ is an impressive balance of fragile beauty with moments of sadness and power. ECM continues to release music that asks jazz fans to broaden their definitions of the music.
Joseph Taylor, Soundstage Ultra (‚Recording of the Month‘)
While improvisation takes priority on ‘Lucus’, Time Is a Blind Guide isn't one to abandon focus and structure. The abstraction is contrasted with plenty of rhythmic propulsion and direction, providing enough grounding and variety for the album. […] Time Is a Blind Guide build their sound with a healthy influence of contemporary classical music. More so than simply referencing the inclusion of violin and cello, there's an artful abstraction to tracks like ‘Islay’ and ‘Baka’ that recalls the lasting influence of post-minimalism. It's jazz distilled through the universal spectrum of ‘art music’ (as troublesome as that term may be), a constellation of sounds and styles that prize timbre, silence, and harmonic evolution in a variety of ways. Introspective yet not indulgent, ‘Lucus’ reflects the development of a spectacular group of improvisers.
Andy Jurik, Pop Matters
The quintet has a piano trio and what effectively operates as a string trio, but the way it operates tends to have a rhythm section of bass, cello, drums working to support two lead instruments.  ‘Lucus’ signifies a sacred grove or clearing in a forest, which implies an opening to allow in light. So, for example, the opening track has a softly rumbling drum pattern accompanying bowed strings that rise and fall in rhythm that echoes human breathing.  If this suggests something meditative and tranquil, then the album’s title reinforces this and the overall mood of the music here captures it perfectly.
Chris Baber, Jazz Views
Lucus, the second recording from Norwegian drummer/composer Thomas Strønen’s Time Is A Blind Guide, marks a bold step forward from the critically acclaimed debut (described by John Kelman All About Jazz as “a stunning record that stands out as one of Strønen’s most expansive, cinematic and flat-out lyrical albums”). With the group currently trimmed to quintet size, and a new pianist in Wakayama-born Ayumi Tanaka, there is a heightened emphasis on improvisation.
“We’ve played much more,” says Strønen, “and built up a trust in the ensemble. All the players have more confidence in the shared expression of the group and, in a positive sense, less dependency on the compositions, which are offered, really, as guidelines. To me it’s important that the players should feel connected to the music and play what’s right for them.
When I wrote the music for the first album the sound of the group existed only in my imagination at that point, and there were a lot more notes on paper. But with the repertoire of Lucus, things are opened up. And there is more than one way to interpret these pieces: in concert, something played as a ballad one night might be a piece that simply explodes on the next night.”
The music Strønen has written for the ensemble is more space-conscious than last time around, letting in more light, in line with the connotations of the album title, “Lucus” signifying a sacred grove, or a clearing in the forest. The radiant strings seem particularly to bring out this idea. (As it happens, the music was composed in view of the forest, too – Thomas lives out in the Norwegian woodlands).
Strønen first heard Ayumi Tanaka a few years ago while teaching at Oslo’s Royal Academy, where he also organised a concert series. “I liked to set challenges for the students and I asked Ayumi to give a solo concert, something she’d never done before. Her performance was just amazing, and I thought immediately that I have to play with her in some setting.” Tanaka substituted for Kit Downes at a few concerts with the first edition of Time Is a Blind Guide. “When she arrived for the first rehearsal she already knew all the material, having learned a dozen complex pieces with tricky time changes and so on by ear, and didn’t need any scores at all.” She was clearly a logical choice to take over the piano chair in the ensemble. Strønen: “I feel a connection between European contemporary music and jazz and Japanese music in the way that she manoeuvres inside the group sound… She can be very abstract in her playing, with a sparse quality I like a lot, and then the next moment full of temperament.” One can perhaps also sense a connection to early Paul Bley in some of Ayumi’s phrases, paraphrases and ellipses. And a further connection to the dawn of new jazz might also be felt in Ole Morten Vågan’s Haden-like bass intro to the piece called “Tension”.
But Time Is A Blind Guide is a flexible, mutating ensemble and the quintet effectively contains both a string trio and a piano trio. With Lucus a further dynamic adjustment has taken place, in which cellist Lucy Railton, bassist Ole Morten Vågan and the drummer-leader have drawn closer in the engine room of the ensemble while Tanaka and violinist Håkon Aase, says Strønen, “are fulfilling more of a soloist’s function, on top of what we are doing – at least some of the time.”
As on the group’s debut album there are excellent contributions from the string players. The group name Time Is A Blind Guide is taken from Anne Michael’s novel Fugitive Pieces, a connection Strønen underlines with the track of the same title here. The strings here seem to reference both folk music and baroque playing before the piano enters to gently lead the music elsewhere. Manfred Eicher’s production brings out all the fine detail in the grain of the collective sound and the halo of its overtones, captured in the famously-responsive acoustic of Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo in March 2017.