‘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)

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‘Let It Be Told’ – Julian Argüelles

LetItBeTold

IT MAY APPEAR an audaciously challenging project to pull off, arranging for big band the vibrant, unrestrained soundscapes of South African jazz. But then, from first-hand experience, saxophonist and composer Julian Argüelles is well placed to reinterpret the music of the townships as translated through the creative hearts and minds of their exiles.

As one who has been greatly influenced by South Africa’s considerable impact on European and British jazz – which had begun back in the ’60s with the Blue Notes’ exodus from the apartheid state – Julian’s early career thrived as a member of expansive, effervescent and much-lauded ’80s collective Loose Tubes (whose reunion debut became a highlight of last year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival). And, along with brother Steve Argüelles and Django Bates (pivotal Loose Tubers who both feature in this recording), his playing and composition became infused with that same joyful abandon and spontaneity, which also included the saxophonist’s five inspiring years with the Brotherhood of Breath big band led by Blue Notes pianist Chris McGregor.

For new release Let It Be Told, drawing on his experiences as both member and collaborator with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, Argüelles was able to write specifically for this line-up. The sumptuous arrangements here include a number of compositions from the original Blue Notes’ personnel, including Dudu Pukwana’s Mra Khali which opens the set in euphoric fashion – crackling with flamboyant percussion, evocative African guitar groove and snappy horn riffs, the leader’s rapid alto improvisations are typically eloquent.

Mama Marimba promenades assuredly, its closely-clustered brass harmonies encouraging adventurous trombone and tenor sax solos. The beautiful simplicity of Miriam Makeba’s Retreat Song ‘takes a left’ midway to produce an attractive syncopated groove featuring Django Bates’ unmistakable pitch-bent synth gyrations; and the lush, restrained orchestration of You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ultimately diverts its modest, folksy tune into an infectious beat which ripples to Bates’ signature ‘steel pan’ keys.

Wide African skies are conjured in a joyous reading of Pukwana’s Diamond Express as its rolls down the tracks to high trumpet (shades of Hugh Masekela) and Argüelles’ marvellously characterful, unpredictable alto (the hypnotic horn ensemble just magnificent). Abdullah Ibrahim’s much-loved The Wedding receives surely one of the most ravishing and emotional arrangements here as Argüelles’ serene, Zawinulesque abstractness precedes its hymn-like wonder; and with the entry of that most memorable of melodies (Bates adding ethereal synth), rapt admiration is the overriding response.

Following Chris McGregor’s Amasi – which, in his own arrangement, dances in glorious celebration – comes a particularly inspired interpretation of Ladysmith Black Mambozo’s Amabutho, which brilliantly captures the idea of cantor and choral response as Argüelles’ alto invites deeply satisfying deep reed harmonies and high brassy declarations – a very firm favourite. And to close, Pukwana’s Come Again parties elatedly to Steve Argüelles’ clattering percussion, ‘smiling’ unison horns, whistles and rocky guitar.

Argüelles says that South African jazz has “always had a wonderful balance between something accessible, melodic and grooving, and something challenging, a little bit crazy.” In his own personal way, he perfectly embodies that spirit in a rich, sunshiny big band recording which is both thrilling and, at times, surprisingly moving. A great Summer groove!

Released 27 April 2015 on Basho Records, Let It Be Told is available from Jazz CDs and all good jazz retailers.

 

Julian Argüelles alto & soprano saxophones
Frankfurt Radio Big Band
featuring

Django Bates piano, keyboards
Steve Argüelles drums, percussion

julianarguelles.com

Basho Records – SRCD 47-2 (2015)