‘The Behemoth’ – Phronesis, Julian Argüelles, Frankfurt Radio Big Band

thebehemoth

THE CAPACITY OF JAZZ to reshape, reinvent and reimagine seems extraordinarily limitless – though, naturally, it’s founded on improvisation and the creative vision to ‘think outside the box’. But, especially with long-established artists’ outputs, any deviation can bring on the nagging doubts: “Might it match up to what we know; will it be as good as the original; perhaps it shouldn’t be tinkered with?” However, the success of any such venture is dependent on the integrity of the original music and the possibilities it can offer, as well as the expertise of its interpreters.

Over the last decade, acoustic trio Phronesis have democratically forged a distinctive path through the traditional piano trio format. Six albums and innumerable sell-out international shows have cemented their reputation for breathtaking, risk-taking music; and thankfully, double bassist Jasper Høiby, pianist Ivo Neame and drummer/percussionist Anton Eger show no sign of easing up.

For their tenth anniversary, The Behemoth celebrates the band’s back catalogue with a bold commission to arrange ten compositions for the scaled-up forces of trio and fifteen-strong big band – a project confidently placed in the hands of renowned saxophonist, composer and bandleader Julian Argüelles. A founder member of Loose Tubes, Argüelles has enjoyed a long association with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band (Let It Be Told being a 2015 album highlight for many), so his affinity with its players was presumably crucial in both translating and integrating with the complex energy of Phronesis. Ivo Neame has previously alluded to the malleability of the trio’s music, with no two performances the same – and its potential for even greater dynamic scope has long been evident. So what do these sixty-five minutes offer?

Well, Julian Argüelles’ arrangements skilfully capture the essence of Phronesis by filling-out those familiar, snappy rhythms (heard first, here, in OK Chorale) whilst also creating lusciously-layered horn textures and space for solo improvisation – yet the beating heart of Høiby, Neame and Eger is ever-present. Closely-clustered brass and reeds in Untitled#1 suggest a stateside city skyline aurora, subtly diminishing to reveal its integral piano, bass and drum framework – and the electric guitar extemporisations of Martin Scales are certainly a previously unimagined adornment. Comparisons with the original album tracks are worth making, the tension of Stillness enhanced with muted trumpets, bass clarinet and rasping trombones before Eger’s percussive cutlery opens it up to celebratory big-band euphoria. The Latin dance-groove of Herne Hill is similarly exuberant, with a deliciously lazy wah-wah trombone solo from Peter Feil; whilst trombonist Christian Jaksø features in Neame’s piano-led Charm Defensive, which might easily have been conceived for large ensemble.

Anton Eger’s superb Zieding, too, feels so natural in its ‘new clothes’, with Jasper Høiby’s heavily-thrummed soloing prominent and Argüelles’ sleek horns and brassy stabs complementing its typically crackling trio vigour, whilst the arrangement of Phraternal emphasises its inherent mystery (these really do unfold as extended masterpieces which perfectly balance trio with big band). Høiby’s impossibly-leaping signature is present in the descending motifs of Urban Control as Argüelles’ tenor paints it in different splashes of colour, including a wonderfully overflowing solo spot; and the bassist’s Happy Notes (an early, jaunty favourite from the Green Delay and Alive albums) closes the set in cacophonic splendour.

Initially, The Behemoth may be quite a gear-change for hardened Phronesis fans. But be open to its remarkable achievement in a recording which teems with an unquenchable, adventurous spirit.

Released on 31 March 2017 and available as CD or digital download from Edition Records’ Bandcamp store.

Promo video: Zieding

 

PHRONESIS
Jasper Høiby double bass
Ivo Name piano
Anton Eger drums, percussion

JULIAN ARGÜELLES arranger, conductor (tenor saxophone solo on Urban Control)

FRANKFURT RADIO BIG BAND
Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, flute, piccolo
Oliver Leicht alto saxophone, clarinet (clarinet solo on Stillness)
Tony Lakatos tenor saxophone, alto flute (tenor solo on OK Chorale)
Steffen Weber tenor saxophone (solo on Stillness)
Rainer Heute baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Frank Wellert trumpet, flugelhorn
Thomas Vogel trumpet, flugelhorn
Martin Auer trumpet, flugelhorn (trumpet solo on Intro to Urban Control)
Axel Schlosser trumpet, flugelhorn (trumpet solo on Zieding)
Günter Bollmann trombone
Peter Feil trombone (solo on Herne Hill)
Christian Jaksjø trombone, bass trumpet (bass trumpet solo on Charm Defensive)
Manfred Honetschläger bass trombone
Martin Scales guitar (solos on Untitled#1 and Happy Notes)

phronesismusic.com

Edition Records – EDN1085 (2017)

‘Snowmelt’ – Marius Neset, London Sinfonietta


Snowmelt

IT ONLY REQUIRES the two-minute solo Prologue to this collection of new material by Marius Neset to be reminded of that first rush of excitement, experienced just a few short years ago, when his distinct, often otherworldly saxophonic approach blew away the senses.

Through the release of his most recent solo albums – BirdsLion and Pinball – a progressive, wider development of Neset’s compositional powers has become strikingly apparent; and now, this collaboration with the renowned London Sinfonietta and long-time jazz colleagues Ivo Neame (piano), Petter Eldh (double bass) and Anton Eger (drums) sees the Norwegian virtuoso realising what is described as his most ambitious, cherished and personal project to date.

Mainly comprising three extended works, the concept for the album was prompted by a 2013 Oslo Sinfonietta commission which Neset wrote for solo saxophone, chamber orchestra and five singers. Already possessing astonishing flair for constructing rhythmically challenging, larger-scale music (2014’s Lion was for jazz orchestra), that fifteen-minute piece spurred the saxophonist on to still greater things – the opportunity to meticulously through-compose, incorporating elements of improvisation, for the combined forces of small orchestra and his own quartet. He explains how working with the London Sinfonietta and their intuitive conductor, Geoffrey Paterson, took his ideas to another level, whilst Neame, Eldh and Eger are now so engaged with Neset’s rhythmical language that they “play it like it was the easiest thing in the world” (summoning incredulous shakes of the head from mere mortals!). Recorded in just two days, at London’s highly-regarded AIR Studios, the outcome is awe-inspiring.

Marius Neset’s contrasting, yet cohesive compositional flow is apparent in seven-movement Arches of Nature – a continuous, 25-minute suite which revels in his masterful orchestration. Appropriately chromatic and discordant, the Bartokian woodwind chatter of Sirens announces a recognisably boisterous sound world which offers a glimpse of how well Neset blends orchestra and quartet, whilst Acrobatics‘ audacious, high-wire tenor antics are heightened by rapidly swirling strings, shrill woodwind alarm, Anton Eger’s skittering percussion, and all manner of intricate details (John Orford’s babbling bassoon delightfully partnering Neset). Halting this intense animation with Janacek-style trumpet fanfare, the lofty arcs of Circles are characteristically traced by Neset’s soprano, sumptuously and emotionally filled out by swelling brass amidst its symphonic splendour; and Caves‘ jazz quartet energy is percussively accentuated by the leader’s gruff, popping tenor and remarkably fleet, exacting orchestration.

As this suite progresses, the sustained thread of Paradise showcases the many guises of Ivo Neame’s piano eloquence, his scampering bass figure especially attractive; romantically lyrical Rainbows unwinds into Getzian tenor-and-strings elegance (though there is never any doubting the saxophonist here); and impudent, showtime finale Pyramiden ripples to phantasmagorical, almost bewildering orchestration.

The Storm is Over further reveals the considered brilliance of this writing – a heavenly ‘land of Cockaigne’ which intriguingly fuses Mahlerian/Brucknerian depth and mystery with a reassuring dance-band warmth, traversed by Marius Neset’s luxurious, soaring and always affecting tenor melodies (so much detail to discover each time). And arguably the album’s main feature – introduced by another gloriously multiphonic solo sax display – Snowmelt brims with Nordic zeal as Neset’s quartet and the London Sinfonietta coalesce so immaculately. Listen closely to the the tonal balance… the orchestral weave… the rhythmic fire… the folksung inflection… the tear-inducing beauty… and, at that moment, there’s nothing creatively or heartwarmingly finer.

Released on 26 August 2016, Snowmelt is available from ACT Music. Promo video here.

 

Marius Neset tenor and soprano saxophones
Ivo Neame piano
Petter Eldh bass
Anton Eger drums

LONDON SINFONIETTA
Geoffrey Paterson conductor
Karen Jones flute, piccolo
Gareth Hulse oboe
Michael Whight clarinet, bass clarinet
John Orford bassoon
Michael Thompson horn
Torbjörn Hultmark trumpet
Byron Fulcher trombone
Jonathan Morton violin (principal 1st)
Miranda Fulleylove violin
Elizabeth Wexler violin
Joan Atherton violin (principal 2nd)
Hilaryjane Parker violin
Charlotte Reid violin
Roger Chase viola
Zoe Matthews viola
Richard Waters viola
Tim Gill cello
Adrian Bradbury cello
Markus van Horn contrabass

All music composed and arranged by Marius Neset
Produced by Marius Neset with Anton Eger

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – 9035-2 (2016)

‘Parallax’ – Phronesis

Parallax

HOW’S THIS for supreme confidence? One of the world’s foremost jazz trios recording an hour of explosive, original material in a single day at London’s renowned Abbey Road Studios… and ab-so-lute-ly nailing it!

Jasper Høiby, Ivo Neame and Anton Eger’s combined musical prowess has previously been documented here with 2012’s outstanding studio release Walking Dark and 2014’s live, in-the-round thriller Life to Everything – yet, having honed and established such a distinctive identity and direction over more than a decade of democratic collaboration, it’s remarkable how they raise the bar still higher with each new release.

Sixth album Parallax continues to astonish; not as a result of this piano trio (in decidedly unconventional guise) suddenly upping sticks and changing course, but because they possess the breathtaking musicality and technical precision to consolidate this sound world of their own making, whilst also drawing us into the glorious minutiae of their progressive invention. As with their last album, double bassist, pianist and drummer enjoy compositional parity (three tracks each) – and though glints of individual personality are recognisable from other projects, the strength of this enduring partnership is confirmed by the solidity of these live studio performances and an ever-present filament of hard-wrought, communicative equilibrium.

That special Phronesis character – ‘wisdom personified’ – is evident from the outset, with the velocity of Anton Eger’s 67000 MPH (the speed of the sun) marked out by complex, unison bass-and-piano riffs, thunderous drum detail and audacious tempo shifts. The changeable, parallactic undulations and contours of this trio’s music are spine-tingling, and equally colourful in Ivo Neame’s solo opening to his OK Chorale – an acrobatic, piano-led delight which intensifies towards Eger’s trademark percussive alchemy; and Jasper Høiby’s slow-burning, arco-bass Stillness – like some orchestral Bach transcription – is outrageously carved open by the incisiveness of the drummer’s cutlery (yes, really!).

Ivo Neame’s recognisable lyricism shines through so beautifully in A Kite for Seamus, his breezy solo lines spiralling into the hazy azure, with an occasionally duskier descent; the lurching, introductory motif of Høiby’s Just 4 Now heralds typically adrenalin-fuelled activity, including the bassist’s own lithe extemporisations; and Ayu (from Eger) says so much about the trio’s empathy, sparking rhythmic and textural ideas off each other amidst jaw-dropping, individual agility.

Implied, dreamy, pianistic reflections in Høiby’s A Silver Moon might easily evoke Bill Evans or Beethoven, such is Neame’s increasingly mercurial creativity; and the pianist’s superbly delirious Manioc Maniac restlessly writhes and jostles across its three minutes. Jasper Høiby remains the sturdy backbone of this ensemble, and his sinuous bass dexterity in Eger’s bubbling rock-out, Rabat (in conjunction with similarly impassioned piano and drums), spectacularly brings the curtain down on an another artistically magnificent album.

Catch this purely acoustic trio live, and it’s difficult to know where to fix your attention, such is the relentless musical and visual dialogue, back and forth, across the stage. The same holds true for this recording, capturing an energised zeal interpreted through focus, clarity and sincerity.

Oh, and a fortnight in a top-level studio to lay down a single drum track? Anathema to these illustrious trailblazers!

Released on 8 April 2016, Parallax is available as CD, 12″ vinyl and high-quality download from Edition Records’ Bandcamp store.

Videos: Stillness, Rabat and OK Chorale.

 

Jasper Høiby double bass
Ivo Neame piano
Anton Eger drums

phronesismusic.com

Edition Records – EDN1070 (2016)

‘Pinball’ – Marius Neset

Pinball

IF THE NAME Marius Neset hasn’t yet entered your vocabulary, or his staggering musical proficiency not already hit your ears… then, with this latest album, Pinball, prepare for a life-changing jazz experience!

The Norwegian saxophonist and composer first erupted onto the wider European scene only four years ago with debut Golden Xplosion, and the ensuing releases – Birds (Edition, 2013) and Lion (ACT, 2014) – each time, left mouths gaping wider at the technical precision and impassioned musicality of the performances and writing. Some say he is the Parker or Coltrane of our time, with clear echoes of Brecker and Garbarek, and it’s unlikely to be an exaggeration that his distinct imprint on the progression and broadening of the jazz genre is creating, for us, the same revelatory tremors (turn out the lights, listen… and the saxophonist surely couldn’t be anyone else).

Mentored by Django Bates, that same sense of perpetual exploration and living on the edge is evident in Neset’s music – but it is also ingrained with atmospheres which reflect the musical folk traditions and awe-inspiring landscapes of his homeland, resulting in a rich combination of raw excitement and deep emotion. And, with every new release, the complexity and beauty of his compositional outpourings become impressively aggrandised.

Early in 2014, and in Mahlerian ‘composing hut’ spirit, Neset tucked himself away in a Norwegian mountain cottage and was inspired “to write almost a whole album”, specifically with his band colleagues (mostly from the Birds album) in mind – Ivo Neame (piano, Hammond), Jim Hart (vibes, marimba), Petter Eldh (bass) and Anton Eger (drums, percussion), plus special guests. Neset’s association with Eger runs deep, both collaborating here on production as well as some of the writing.

Title track Pinball conveys the overarching character of these twelve numbers – meticulously-conceived melodies, yet the varietal moods, audacious polyrhythms and fervid, darting improvisations make it all so entertainingly unpredictable. Mesmerising clapping and flutter-tongued flute herald World Song Pt. 1, a joyous, African-imbued opener filled with chattering folk dance riffs and soaring tenor; Pt. 2 is more ruminative – with distant knell, quivering cello and elegiac violin – until Jim Hart’s eloquent vibes resound up into the skies to summon a sunshiny recapitulation. The album’s effervescence is punctuated by calmer interludes, the subterranean resonance of Petter Eldh’s bass and Eger’s slow drum in Odes of You remarkably soothing, combined with Ivo Neame’s Hammond/piano and Neset’s lyricism.

Police (for silent movie buffs) portrays all the cheeky, madcap clatter of the Keystone Cops; with Marius’s tenor and sister Ingrid’s flute so chirpily yet accurately synched, it’s a real smile-raiser. Evoking thoughts of Neset’s haunting 2012 album with Daniel Herskedal (Neck of the Woods), Music for Cello and Saxophone is a fascinating echoic ‘duologue’ in which both instruments intertwine so convincingly; and the later Music for Drums and Saxophone finds Neset sharing the percussive possibilities of his tenor with Eger’s pin-sharp rhythms in a delicate, trance-like episode.

Never pass up the opportunity to catch this band live (tour dates here), Theatre of Magic offering a glimpse of the divergency of their craft as Marius, here with the illusion of playing both tenor and soprano, leads its glorious vivacity. Swirling Aberhonddu, presumably a nod to Brecon’s much-loved jazz festival, might suggest the capricious climatic conditions up on the Beacons, whilst Jaguar showcases the leader’s forceful soprano rapidity. His sparkling, trademark ‘duotone’ tenor announces Summer Dance, an astonishingly detailed Irish reel-like celebration coloured warmly with Hart’s marimba, before layered sax end-piece Hymn from the World reverently closes.

Released in the UK on 2 February 2015, the spine-tingling musicianship of Pinball makes it an irresistible repeat player!

Further information and audio samples at ACT Music.

 

Marius Neset tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Ivo Neame piano, Hammond B3, a.o.
Jim Hart vibraphone, marimba
Petter Eldh double bass
Anton Eger drums, percussion
with
Andreas Brantelid cello
Rune T. Sørensen violin
Ingrid Neset flute
August Wanngren tambourine
Pinball band clapping

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – ACT 9032-2 (2014)

‘Life to Everything’ – Phronesis

Life

HOW MIGHT ONE define ‘supergroup’? In some popular genres, it may well constitute questionable talent, shallow fame, social media infamy, gold discs, the trashing of hotel rooms or hanging around a decade too long in hideously bright designer lounge suits!

OK, so a tongue-in-cheek generalisation. But, in the case of Phronesis, that hugely popular Anglo-Scandinavian powerhouse of contemporary jazz, their success refreshingly reflects their consummate musicality, impassioned creativity, unequivocal scholarship and acceptance of the challenge to be different. Double bassist Jasper Høiby, pianist Ivo Neame and drummer Anton Eger feature prominently, and separately, in many of today’s exciting line-ups. But, make no mistake… when they slot together to record and perform as Phronesis, selling out venues from the UK to the USA and Canada, and to Australia, this trio becomes one of jazz’s supergroups.

With three studio albums to their tally (most recently, 2012’s Walking Dark) and already an acclaimed live album (Alive!, 2010), Danish-born Høiby is widely acknowledged as the band’s architect. But any thoughts of hierarchy end there, for the three have worked together in this remarkably balanced collective for almost a decade, committing themselves to the development of a wholly unified approach and honing what can only be recognised as complete mastery of their art.

In this new live release – recorded before enthusiastic in-the-round gatherings over three nights at The Cockpit during 2013’s EFG London Jazz Festival – the trio demonstrate more clearly than ever their established, democratic principle of writing and performing. And rather than interpreting previous studio album material, they bravely unleash a blistering, multi-layered assault and ‘batterie’ on the senses with nine astonishingly intricate new works, evenly sharing the compositional credits. Since its release a few weeks ago, I have been drawn deeper and still deeper into this mesmerising hour-long spectacular, increasingly rewarded by the staggering display of telepathy, invention and musicianship – and Phronesis clearly revel in and respond to the close, attentive appreciation of their audiences.

Visually and sonorously the trio’s backbone, Jasper Høiby ‘lights the touch paper’ with his pliant bass intro to Anton Eger’s Urban Control. The piece bursts into life with customary fervour, Ivo Neame’s piano glistening over Eger’s skittering percussion and Høiby’s unyielding exploration of the fingerboard. Phronesis always balance improvisation and tight mechanics so perfectly, blending expressive freedom with pin-sharp communication and structure, resulting in the most engaging of experiences. Phraternal finds a rare moment of contemplation, led by the composer’s piano; and, in contrast, the nine minutes of Høiby’s Behind Bars are simply breathtaking, building in intensity, yet so finely calculated – and Eger’s contribution (to see is to believe!) is frenetic almost beyond words.

Ever the searchingly-melodic pianist, Ivo Neame’s Song for Lost Nomads skips to his staccato left hand, Høiby and Eger tracking every phrase; and the smouldering Wings 2 the Mind from Høiby, with those now-characteristic Phronesis unison piano and bass phrases, bubbles away until anticipatory chimes coax this almost peerless drummer into another powerful display. No let-up in momentum, Nine Lives flies like the wind – and the writer’s double bass dexterity would be quite unbelievable had I not witnessed it many times before.

Neame takes a subtle step into the spotlight in his sprightly Deep Space Dance – a distinctive, creative pianistic style which is upheld beautifully by his colleagues. Two compositions from Anton Eger complete the album. Herne Hill shimmies infectiously (much to the delight of the audience), exhibiting such intelligence and shared understanding of dynamics and tempo. And, finally, Dr Black sums up the essence of this compelling trio, seemingly throwing at it every technique they possess, including a drum showcase which no doubt includes various kitchen items except the sink! – every time, a real thrill to listen to.

Life to Everything is likely to hit very high on the 2014 jazz seismograph, such is the calibre of these performances – and all from a set of live (and particularly superior) recordings. Released by Edition Records on 7 April, audio samples and purchasing options can be found here.

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything” (Plato)


Jasper Høiby
double bass
Ivo Neame piano
Anton Eger drums

Photography: Dave Maric
Design: Darren Rumney

phronesis.com
editionrecords.com

Edition Records – EDN1050 (2014)