‘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)

‘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)