‘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)

‘Fellow Creatures’ – Jasper Høiby

FellowCreatures

THE EXPERIENCE is entrenched in mind and soul – those purely analogue days of poring over and falling in love with a new vinyl and its gatefold sleeve art, flipping the 12″ over at the exit groove so many times that one grew to anticipate every track, every bar, every instrumental entry. 

There’s something of that sentiment captured within double bassist, composer and bandleader Jasper Høiby’s new release, Fellow Creatures. Now a prominent personality and musical backbone of so many outstanding contemporary jazz line-ups – most notably as creator of enduringly successful trio Phronesis, but also a key player with names such as Marius Neset, Django Bates, Mark Guiliana and Kairos 4tet – the bassist sees these ten, eloquent tracks as a narrative in which the listener might connect with the music and its interpreters across the album’s near-full-hour entirety. In that context, he couldn’t have wished for a more empathetic personnel than Mark Lockheart (saxes), Laura Jurd (trumpet, flugel), Will Barry (piano) and Corrie Dick (drums).

Høiby explains that he has long wished to broaden his writing to a larger ensemble, including two melody instruments; and whilst his signature percussive/cantabile bass technique and Phronesis-based compositional identity are pleasingly evident here, he opens up a refreshingly bright, undulating vista which takes in graceful, Scandinavian folkiness, zesty post-bop jazz riffs and improvisational free-spiritedness… plus a dash of characteristic mischief. Canadian author Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything is cited amongst the inspiration for the writing and track titles, highlighting the need to recognise and embrace the fragility of the earth and its natural resources; that, and also the importance of family and human accord.

Key to the album’s intent are Høiby’s memorable hooks which become enchantingly familiar – Folk Song‘s plaintive trumpet and piano tune in thirds which, traced with high, wiry arco bass harmonics, follows the otherwise spacial freedom of its beginnings; or the close trumpet and tenor sax ‘crashing wave’ phrases in title track Fellow Creatures, a number which excitedly ripples to the kind of unison piano-and-bass riffs that Phronesis fans will easily recognise. Laura Jurd’s increasing prominence on the UK jazz circuit (currently a BBC Radio 3 New Generation artist) includes left-field projects such as Blue-Eyed Hawk and, recently, Huw V Williams’ album Hon. Yet here, her particularly clear tones combine perfectly with those of distinguished saxophonist Mark Lockheart to create a rich frontline, as in urgent soundtrack for troubled times, World of Contradictions, and especially in Little Song for Mankind where their intertwining boisterousness (Jurd as high and hard-hitting as, say, Jon Faddis) is swelled by the remaining trio’s turbulent undercurrent.

Optimistic mariachi dance Song for the Bees finds the horn duo gyrating around Høiby’s unmistakably conversational bass ground (almost guaranteed to bring out the sun), whilst Tangible is reminiscent of Ivo Neame’s compositions for trio, Will Barry’s pianistic invention just as engaging. Quartet piece Collective Spaces (minus piano) feels intimately folky, akin to a journeying minstrel band, whereas the bassist’s groove which sets up Suddenly, Everyone inspires a ‘Phronesis big band’ episode which explodes to Corrie Dick’s skittering, crashing percussion and impressive tenor and trumpet improv. Lumbering, tricksy Before feels just on the edge of hysterics from duo Lockheart and Høiby; and closer Plastic Island perpetuates the band camaraderie as it stomps both gleefully and anarchically to a choppy bass-and-piano motif, swaggering tenor, growling trumpet and impertinent percussion – fabulous!

Høiby’s summing-up of this album is surely something to which most of us would aspire: “This music is an encouragement to the love between human beings and an acknowledgement of our belonging to nature, that I believe we all share as fellow creatures.” Indeed, this quintet’s joyous, life-enriching creativity provides us with a continuing hope.

Released on Edition Records on 15 July 2016, Fellow Creatures is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Jasper Høiby double bass, composer
Mark Lockheart saxophones
Laura Jurd trumpet, flugel
Will Barry piano
Corrie Dick drums

jasperhoiby.com

Edition Records – EDN1075 (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)

‘The Day I Had Everything’ – Malija

Malija

IT’S A FEELING that probably resonates with most of us; as kids, relishing those long, school summer holidays stretching out in front, safe in the knowledge that with each seemingly endless day came the freedom to explore and make new discoveries with friends.

Entitling this new album The Day I Had Everything, saxophonist Mark Lockheart expresses that same kind of excitement in a working environment with equally adroit colleagues, Jasper Høiby (double bass) and Liam Noble (piano). “The sheer excitement one has as a child getting up in the morning and not being able to decide what to do first” is Lockheart’s parallel to the process of pooling their own, original compositions and the pleasure of developing and recording them in the studio; and whilst their perhaps African-sounding trio name is nothing more than a connecting of forenames, it clearly reinforces their unalloyed musical cohesion and friendship (first collaborating on Mark Lockheart’s impressive 2009 album In Deep).

What becomes fascinating across these 56 minutes is that each of the three players’ contributions are often stamped with their recognisable, individual characters, whilst also possessing an openness and eclecticism which continually delights. Malija’s realm is far away from a standards trio, and the element of surprise remains strong throughout, as does the group’s flawless musicality and invention… frequently flecked with coltish exuberance and tangible mischievousness.

Enter at any point in this 11-track release and there is soon the realisation of both depth and warmth in the unfolding artistry. The eccentric folksiness of Lockheart’s opener, Squared, might easily have its roots in Dave Brubeck’s Unsquare Dance as his signature full tenor voice weaves around jaunty piano and bass grooving, plus an ever-present tinge of the unexpected; and intricately-constructed Mr Wrack (after Noble’s technical drawing teacher) anarchically bursts into a Beach Boys-style piano riff, increasingly swelled by the Ligeti Quartet’s chattering grandeur and Lockheart’s wonderfully disorderly screeching. Jasper Høiby’s occasionally-tripped-up walking-5/4 Unknown is quietly cheerful, with a cross-pollination of phrases and subtle horn / bass clarinet layering underpinning flighty soprano sax, whilst The Pianist shunts and grunges to Noble’s bass fifths and bluesy ornamentation in tandem with brash, almost cackling tenor (and so deeply satisfying!).

Høiby’s bass harmonics (redolent of his Phronesis) and the added complexity of modal, out-of-body riffs from Noble and Lockheart’s soprano tee-up the pianist’s Wheels, happily jarring the senses before finding a more freewheeling clear road ahead; and the bassist’s shadowy title track Malija (with such a memorable, searching melody) seems to reference his work with Kairos 4tet – an exquisite, richly-tenored wellspring of beauty. Almost a Tango is typically Mark Lockheart, full of shifting dance rhythms, textures and moods (not unlike the writing on his acclaimed release Ellington in Anticipation), all three players seeming to wallow in its quirky splendour.

An echoic, slowly-oscillating piano-and-bass motif in Liam Noble’s miniature, Blues, melds superbly with breathy tenor (Polar Bear minus electronics?); then the saxophonist’s charming, breezy One For Us emerges like a beloved classic at the end of a set, and could easily invite a delicate vocal from Cleo Laine or Norma Winstone. Wayne’s World – Høiby’s tribute to Wayne Shorter, with his sinewy bass encircling the whole piece – gives free rein to Noble and Lockheart to improvise more abstractedly and, in the detail, still more deliciously, Then, closing anthemically yet mysteriously, and integrating the Ligeti’s strings, Mark Lockheart’s With One Voice feels imbued with the spirits of both Michael Tippett and Joe Zawinul, its poignancy filled once again with the tenorist’s unmistakable, luxurious tones.

Listening now, and in musical and emotional terms… this feels like I have everything.

Released on 27 November 2015 – available as CD, download and 12″ vinyl at Edition Records’ Bandcamp store.

 

Mark Lockheart saxophones, bass clarinet
Jasper Høiby double bass
Liam Noble piano
with
Ligeti Quartet (on Mr Wrack and With One Voice)

Edition Records – EDN1064 (2015)

‘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)

‘Slowly Rolling Camera’ – Slowly Rolling Camera

SRC

IF YOU’RE SEARCHING for a pigeonhole in which to drop this eponymous debut release by new UK band Slowly Rolling Camera… well, you may struggle. Because, with a stirringly congruous mix of soul, electronica, trip hop, jazz, rock and soundtrack, Dave Stapleton and his associates have conceived a mesmerising yet cohesive soundscape which almost warrants a genre of its own.

There are obvious comparisons with the music of The Cinematic Orchestra and Portishead – but, somehow, this leaps beyond, into another vista. The core quartet comprises Stapleton himself as composer and keyboardist; vocalist and lyricist Dionne Bennett; Deri Roberts (producer, sound design and electronics); and drummer Elliot Bennett. But, in addition, from Stapleton’s Edition Records label, he employs the considerable skills of some of British jazz’s finest – bassist Jasper Høiby, Mark Lockheart on saxes, guitarist Chris Montague, and Neil Yates on trumpet, as well as synth player Matt Robertson – plus, important to the overall ‘widescreen’ sound, a splendid string octet. And, for the majority of the eleven numbers (with two bonus tracks), it is the commanding and enigmatic presence of Dionne Bennett, with her rich, dusky and soulful vocals, that ignites the project’s incandescent blaze.

The overriding groove of the whole album is one of smouldering intensity, as portrayed by opening track Protagonist which is propelled by the complex drum patterns of Elliot Bennett and coloured with Stapleton’s Zero7-type Fender Rhodes and organ. The unmistakably animated input of guitarist Chris Montague and alto sax player Mark Lockheart add weight to the layered vocals (“you give me the air I want to need to breathe”), all expertly sound-designed by Deri Roberts. From Jasper Høiby’s pliant opening bass riff, Dream a Life inhabits the world of movie soundtrack, with serene-but-edgy strings backing Dionne Bennett’s echoey, impassioned voice; and Rain That Falls conjures ‘007’ opening titles, lead vocal supported by the watery electric piano and high unison violins so evocative of that motion picture realm, Mark Lockheart displaying his customary, improvisatory sax eloquence. Bridge is redolent of Stapleton’s successful ‘Flight’ album, his Gorecki/Pärt-sounding strings laying the foundation for Dionne Bennett’s emotional words, beautifully enhanced by Neil Yates’ heartfelt, breathy, flugel-like trumpet, before dramatically bursting into fully-fledged majesty, drums underpinning with solid, shimmering brilliance.

Fragile Ground is particularly strong, both in terms of writing and production. Its ominous beginnings give way to powerful multi-tracked vocals matched by intense strings and drums (Elliot Bennett brings great intricacy as well as weight to his percussion) and clanging, sustained guitar chords provide that ‘TV thriller’ feel. Stapleton clearly relishes the real Rhodes sound (no samples here), his strongly-tremulant no-thirds chords a key feature of heavy-beat Two Roads; and the subtle momentum of segue River Runs Free flows beautifully into Rolling Clouds, an electronically-infused 11/8 instrumental featuring Montague’s sparky guitar lead and Lockheart’s sprightly soprano sax. But for a couple of bonus tracks included on the digital download, Color completes the album with Dionne Bennett’s floaty voice above swirling strings, backing vocals and electro-wizardry.

Experiencing one of the band’s early live performances, in London, I confirm that Slowly Rolling Camera create a soundworld which, if not unique, is pretty much unlike anything in our current sphere. The combination of smoky-soul vocals and cross-genre compositions – recorded and mixed by the highly regarded Andy Allan with Deri Roberts – is already creating quite a stir (with album two in development).

Available from Edition Records’ Bandcamp store, as well as iTunes and usual outlets (listen at SoundCloud).


Dionne Bennett
 lyricist, vocals
Dave Stapleton composer, Fender Rhodes, piano, Hammond organ
Deri Roberts producer, sound design, electronics, trombone, additional saxophone
Elliot Bennett drums
with
Jasper Høiby double bass
Chris Montague guitar
Mark Lockheart tenor and soprano saxophones
Neil Yates trumpet
Matt Robertson synths

Strings:
Jon Visanji violin
Catrin Win Morgan violin
Victoria Stapleton violin
Katy Rowe violin
Ilona Bondar viola
Rebekah Frost viola
Alice Hoskins cello
Sarah Stevens cello

Edition Records – EDN1048 (2014)

editionrecords.com

‘Everything We Hold’ – Kairos 4tet

Kairos

SURELY the greatest crime for any creative musician is to stand still – to churn out more of the same, ad infinitum (which, it has to be said, some recording artists are content in doing). But not so, in the case of venturous sax player Adam Waldmann’s ‘Kairos 4tet’. Since their highly promising 2009 debut, ‘Kairos Moment’ and sparkling 2011 follow-up, ‘Statement of Intent’, they have continued to push jazz frontiers to successfully forge a distinctive, progressive path for themselves.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Nail Label – naimcd191 (2013)