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
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)
Edition Records – EDN1085 (2017)