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The Behemoth


by Ian Mann

April 26, 2017


A superb live recording featuring the unique collaboration between Phronesis and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band conducted by Julian Arguelles.


“The Behemoth”

(Edition Records EDN 1085)

In November 2015 Phronesis, the Anglo-Scandinavian trio led by Danish bassist Jasper Hoiby celebrated their tenth anniversary with a series of performances with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band conducted by Julian Arguelles.

The programme consisted of Arguelles’ big band arrangements of Phronesis tunes sourced from various stages of the group’s career.

The performances included a superb concert at the Milton Hall venue in London as part of the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival. This was an event that I was fortunate enough to attend and cover and my review of a quite brilliant show is reproduced below. The concert was a triumph for all the musicians concerned with the small group compositions translating superbly into the big band environment, thanks in no small part to the arranging skills of Arguelles. 

Two days previously the première performance of the project in Frankfurt had been recorded with a view to releasing a live album, something that I anticipated at the time, and here it is in all its glory. The recording sounds just as good as I remember from the live event and its release is something to be celebrated, one suspects that this is yet another Phronesis album that will find its way onto many people’s ‘best of year’ lists. I have no shame in indulging in yet another shameless piece of cutting and pasting as this is yet another album that I desperately wish to bring to your attention and one which is highly recommended.



It seems almost impossible to believe that 2015 sees Phronesis celebrating their tenth anniversary. The Anglo-Scandinavian trio led by Danish bassist and featuring English pianist Ivo Neame and Swedish drummer Anton Eger can be considered to be one the leading contemporary jazz acts in the whole of Europe.
I’m pleased to say that the Jazzmann spotted the group’s potential very early on, giving a glowing review, one of the band’s first, to their début album “Organic Warfare” way back in 2006. Since then I’ve been delighted to watch their progress through a series of other excellent albums including both studio and concert recordings. Over the years Phronesis have acquired an impressive reputation for the exciting quality of their live shows and I’ve been privileged to report on several of these, including both club dates and prestigious festival appearances.

One of the band’s most original ideas was the “Pitch Black” concert series which found the trio playing with an astonishingly high level of technical precision in total darkness, the concept for the project being the illness of Hoiby’s sister Jeanette and the gradual onset of total blindness that resulted from her condition.
For the trio’s tenth anniversary they decided to invite Julian Arguelles to arrange a number of their pieces for performance by the trio with a big band. Also a superb saxophonist Arguelles has strong links with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and recently released the album “Let It Be Told” with them, a recording on the Basho label that celebrated the music of the Blue Notes, the South African exiles who moved to London in the late 1960s and who so profoundly influenced the British jazz scene.

Milton Court, with its superb acoustics, was perfectly suited to this early afternoon performance, billed as ‘Major Tenth’ which saw a sharply dressed core trio take to the stage as an equally sartorially elegant conductor took to the podium. The sixteen piece Big Band filed on to join them as the performance began with “Untitled”, a tune that has been in the trio’s repertoire for a number of years but which is still searching for a name. From the outset it was apparent just what a fine job Arguelles had done in his capacity as an arranger, the lush horn sonorities complemented the core trio perfectly on a piece that almost seemed to act as an overture. As Arguelles later pointed out most of Phronesis’ tunes are already complex and full of detail so he had to take particular care with the arrangements to ensure that the music didn’t become too cluttered. Here, as elsewhere, he succeeded brilliantly and also managed to find room for the designated solos to express themselves, in this case Phronesis pianist Ivo Neame and the Big Band’s guitarist Martin Scales.

The arrangement of “Zieding” featured the fiery and fluent trumpeting of soloist Axel Schlosser who was complemented by some rousing big band charts and the dynamic drumming of Anton Eger.

Neame’s composition “Charm Defensive” offered a more impressionistic approach with Hoiby deploying his bow on the intro and with the subtle horn voicings featuring a mix of trumpets and flugels plus Rainer Heute’s bass clarinet. The delicate nuances of the playing and arranging ensured that this was an ensemble that really deserved the title ‘jazz orchestra’ rather than the more prosaic ‘big band’. Neame was one of two featured soloists on his own tune, the other being the excellent Christian Jaksjo on trombone.

Hoiby’s rambling, vaguely surreal but always amusing announcements were not always an exact science when it came to tune titles. The fourth piece featured the crisp, clean guitar sound of soloist Scales.

Next up was what sounded like a segue of pieces beginning with an introductory dialogue between Neame on piano and Oliver Leicht on clarinet with Hoiby’s bowed bass providing additional colour.

Arguelles’ arrangement was again richly colourful but also allowed for a passage featuring just the core trio as Neame delivered a typically imaginative solo. From the big band ranks Stefan Weber weighed in strongly on tenor before a solo drum passage from Eger, an absorbing, well constructed and innately musical sequence that seemed to lead into a fresh piece, but again one that alternated between big band and trio passages, the latter giving both Neame and Hoiby the opportunities to shine as soloists.

There was less difficulty in identifying “Urban Control” which began with Neame’s piano motif embellished by the warm textures of massed flugel horns and trombones. The arrangement was subsequently notable for creating something of a ‘band within a band’ with the core Phronesis trio joined by Weber on tenor, Christian Jaksjo on trombone and Axel Schlosser on flugelhorn to form a sextet, the six musicians playing collectively under the baton of Arguelles as well as delivering individual solos, among them a stunning passage of unaccompanied bass from Hoiby.

Before the final number Arguelles took the opportunity of introducing the band members individually as well as thanking the Big Band’s manager Olaf Stadtler and Phronesis manager Sue Edwards who had both helped to co-ordinate the concert.

A superb set closed with the celebratory “Herne Hill” with Jaksjo again the featured soloist. Hoiby, Neame, Eger and Arguelles then left the stage to thunderous applause and a standing ovation before returning to play an encore with the Big Band. The trio introduced the piece with the dialogue between Hoiby and Eger particularly impressive. Heinz Dieter Sauerborn was the featured Big Band soloist, his incisive soprano playing revealing a distinct Middle Eastern influence.

This concert was a collective triumph for Phronesis, Julian Arguelles and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and a real Festival highlight. It was their second performance together following the première of the arrangements in Frankfurt a couple of days earlier, a show that was recorded I believe. This was music that was far too good to just vanish into the ether, let’s hope that a live album documenting this vividly re-imagined material will be released in due course.

For the record the Big Band lined up;
Heinz Dieter Sauerborn, Oliver Leicht, Tony Lakatos,  Rainer Heute, Steffen Weber - reeds
Frank Wellert, Thomas Vogel, Martin Auer, Axel Schlosser - trumpets and flugelhorns
Gunter Bollmann, Peter Feil, Christian Jaksjo, Manfred Honetschlager - trombones
Martin Scales - guitar
Thomas Heidepriem - acoustic & electric bass
Jean Paul Hochstadter - drums

The Frankfurt performance that comprises the album was made without the services of Heidepreim and Hochstadter with Hoiby and Eger handling all the bass and drum parts. Perhaps the addition of the Big Band members for the London show was intended to give the Phronesis pair more freedom. If so it certainly worked but the absence of Heidepreim and Hochstadter in no way lessens the impact of the album.Conversely Arguelles took the opportunity to play at Frankfurt and delivers the tenor solo on “Urban Control”.

The running order is also different with the track listing on the album as follows;
1. OK Chorale (Neame)

2. Untitled 1 (Hoiby)

3. Stillness (Hoiby)

4. Herne Hill (Eger)

5. Charm Defensive (Neame)

6. Zieding (Eger)

7. Phraternal (Neame)

8. Intro to Urban Control (Arguelles / Eger)

9. Urban Control (Hoiby)

10. Happy Notes (Hoiby)

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