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Green Delay


by Ian Mann

May 23, 2009


Combining melody with groove in equal measure this ambitious but accessible recording is a treat for everybody's ears.

Phronesis is the name of the trio led by bassist Jasper Hoiby, a Danish musician now based in London who is becoming an increasingly important figure on the UK jazz scene. The trio’s début release “Organic Warfare” (Loop Records 2007) is reviewed elsewhere on this site and is something of a Jazzmann favourite. Combining lyricism with melodic hooks and grooves “Organic Warfare” was sometimes reminiscent of E.S.T. in terms of accessibility but Hoiby’s compositional and leadership skills enabled him to put his own distinctive stamp on the music.

“Green Delay” shows clear signs of development with lengthier, more ambitious compositions. Once again the album was recorded in Denmark by engineer August Wanngren and with Anton Eger occupying the drum chair. There is however a change at the piano with Magnus Hjorth being replaced by the UK’s Ivo Neame, a prominent member of North London’s Loop Collective.

The CD package contains a simple but moving dedication to Hoiby’s disabled sister Jeanette who recently lost her sight as the result of a long term illness. “Sister, now that your eyes have ceased to work here’s something for your ears” promises Hoiby but all ears that get to hear this music can consider themselves privileged.

The virtues that made “Organic Warfare” such a memorable album are again there in abundance but this time round there seems to be an even higher level of group interaction. Hoiby and Neame are regular collaborators on various Loop projects including Neame’s own quartet and the level of rapport between the pair is remarkably high. Indeed Neame is one of those players who just seems to get better every time I hear him. He was outstanding on vibraphonist Jim Hart’s recent Woodville Records release “Words And Music” and here, in even more of a key role he is excellent once again.

The programme of nine original Hoiby compositions commences with “Abraham’s New Gift”,ushered in by Hoiby’s muscular but melodic bass playing. In a track of fluctuating dynamics he pushes Neame to brilliant new heights of invention. The groove based closing section builds up an impressive head of steam with Eger’s propulsive drumming particularly outstanding.

Hoiby’s huge, rounded tone is again impressive on “Blue Inspiration” as Neame improvises melodically above Eger’s hip-hop style groove. This blend of Jarrett style lyricism with contemporary grooves is wholly successful and a good indicator of what Phronesis are all about. This is a band with the potential to appeal to listeners beyond the normal jazz demographic. Curious rock fans reading this who may have discovered E.S.T., Neil Cowley or The Bad Plus are encouraged to check Phronesis out.

“Blackout” unfolds organically and is an excellent example of the group as an integrated ensemble. Hoiby has spoken of the importance of establishing a group sound and of the importance of the interaction between the players. Less composed in feel than some of the other pieces “Blackout” seems to embody the democratic nature of the group as the ideas just seem to flow. Neame’s tumbling piano at times recalls Keith Jarrett in full flight. 

The title track is groove based and features a typically agile solo from the excellent Hoiby. The combination of his powerful rhythmic drive allied to his remarkable dexterity and melodic sense as a soloist have led to him becoming an in demand accompanist when he is not leading his own projects. Hoiby has collaborated with trumpeter Tom Arthurs and appears on saxophonist Mark Lockheart’s forthcoming release “In Deep”.

“Rue Cinq Diamants” takes the trio into moody, vaguely abstract territory. It’s highly impressionistic with Hoiby producing some astonishing low register sounds from the bass to accompany Neame’s probing piano and Eger’s percussion shadings.

Solo bass ushers in “Love Song”, at nine minutes the album’s lengthiest track. The leader’s contribution is again immense as the track unfolds. Eger is also featured prominently in a series of inventive, colourful drum breaks. The combination of melody, groove and attention to detail recalls E.S.T at their best,  but the lack of electronic embellishment serves to illustrate that Hoiby is very much his own man. Phronesis may share certain elements with E.S.T but they are no copyists.

It’s the turn of Neame’s solo piano to usher in the jaunty but sophisticated “Happy Notes”. The pianist strikes a good balance between his instrument’s melodic and rhythmic functions with Eger’s deftly energetic drumming also highly impressive.   
“Five Songs Six Words” again emphasises the equality of the trio. Hoiby’s resonant bass and Eger’s delightfully detailed drumming (his playing is often reminiscent of E.S.T.‘s Magnus Ohrstrom) are vital components of this engagingly quirky number.

Led off by the bass the energetic “Summersault” is a rousing closer with Eger’s drums and percussion once more to the fore. Neame’s piano skips and hops above Hoiby’s breakneck bass groove as the trio finish the album as strongly as they began.

“Green Delay” is unreservedly recommended to all fans of contemporary jazz. Although ostensibly a piano trio Hoiby’s leadership from the bass adds a whole new dimension to the music and the trio is very much a meeting of equals. The bassist Avishai Cohen is another reference point and Phroneseis’ appeal should not just be limited to piano fans. If you liked the first album you’ll love this and it is to be hoped that the almost universal acclaim for “Green Delay” will add more converts to the fold. This is a group with the potential to build a considerable following.

A word too for engineer Wanngren; several reviewers have commented on the wonderful sound quality of this recording and these are sentiments I can but echo. The separation between the three instruments captures the brilliance of the interplay between the musicians, catches the full subtly of Eger’s drumming and the marvellous bass sound emphasises Hoiby’s role at the heart of the proceedings. Excellent.

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