‘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)

‘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)