by Ian Mann
April 02, 2012
This is the sound of a band with total confidence in their own abilities.
(Edition Records EDN 1031)
The rise and rise of Phronesis has neatly mirrored the development of The Jazzmann. The trio’s 2007 début “Organic Warfare” was one of my earliest reviews and I was quick to register bassist and leader Jasper Hoiby’s winning way with both a tune and a groove. It was immediately obvious that Phronesis had huge potential and other commentators seemed to agree with me as something of a buzz began to develop about the band.
Their second album “Green Delay” (2009) saw the Englishman Ivo Neame replacing original pianist Magnus Hjorth as the plaudits continued to accrue and audiences continued to increase helped hugely by the energy and excitement of the trio’s live appearances. A switch to Edition Records enabled the group to document their stage show on disc at a performance at The Forge in Camden Town with American guest Mark Guiliana deputising for regular drummer Anton Eger. The critics fell over themselves to praise the album, simply and fittingly titled “Alive”, and the recording was voted Jazzwise Magazine’s “Album of the Year” in 2010.
Each album has represented a significant artistic development and the rapport between the three core members, Hoiby, Neame and Eger has reached such a point that in 2011 they were able to perform a series of concerts in total darkness, the “Pitch Black” project which was conceived as a tribute to Hoiby’s disabled sister Jeanette who has lost her sight as the result of a degenerative illness. Besides being a unique sensory experience for audiences the Pitch Black project also raised serious sociological questions.
The trio’s fourth album and third studio recording sees them moving forward yet again as Neame and Eger bring tunes to the band for the first time- hitherto compositional duties had been undertaken by Hoiby alone. The title “Walking Dark” is a reference to Jeanette and the Pitch Black project and the music is as tightly knit and engrossing as ever from one of the great “working” jazz groups of recent times.
Hoiby’s opening title track is a neat encapsulation of Phronesis’s virtues with a complex but catchy hook and a strong groove courtesy of Hoiby’s springy but big toned bass. Eger’s contribution is restlessly inventive and incorporates a wide variety of sounds from cymbals, skins and rims as Neame weighs in with expansive, sparkling piano as the tune gathers and releases energy in a bewildering variety of tempo changes and constantly shifting dynamics.
The relatively brief (a little under four minutes) “Passing Clouds” is more reflective and lyrical and represents the first of three items from the pen of Ivo Neame. A kind of impressionistic ballad the piece is big on mood building and is a good example of the more impressionistic side of the trio with the normally effervescent Eger showing commendable calm and restraint in a drum performance that subtly colours and punctuates the flowing phrases of Neame and the lyrical resonance of Hoiby.
Hoiby has described the album as “a joint Phronesis adventure” and hence the title of Eger’s first compositional credit, “Democracy”, is particularly apposite. It shows the drummer to be an excellent composer in a seven minute opus featuring Hoiby and Eger’s complex but powerful interlocking grooves. The pair have developed a superb understanding and together they give Phronesis a rhythmic drive that is matched by few other “piano trios”. But there’s more to the partnership than mere power, Hoiby and Eger provide a wealth of colour and sophistication through their inventive, ever evolving playing. Highlights here include Neame’s exuberant pianistics and Hoiby’s muscular but wonderfully fluent bass feature as Eger keeps things bustling along with a typically busy but tightly focussed performance.
Hoiby’s own “Suede Trees” features his bass prominently, often doubling up with Neame on the melody line and soloing with an astonishing dexterity above Eger’s colourful brushed accompaniment and Neame’s carefully judged piano chording.
Also from Hoiby the early exchanges of “Upside Down” exhibit something of the melodic sense of E.S.T., an early role model but one which, on the whole, Phronesis has comfortably outgrown even if Eger’s shuffling hip hop grooves do seem to owe something to Magnus Ostrom. However in true Phronesis style the tune quickly develops into something more obviously their own with typically sparky and inventive dialogue between the three protagonists.
Hoiby has described Neame as “the dark cat” of the group, certainly in writing terms. His “Charm Defensive” (great title) is another excellent example of his subtly melancholic writing with it’s gently probing piano above rolling, rumbling drum patterns and deep, grounding bass grooves.
Hoiby’s “Lipwash” is divided into two parts with a brief, brooding introduction dominated by the leader’s bass followed by a an urgent, insistent groove based second half that has drawn comparisons with the music of The Bad Plus. This, in turn is punctuated by a passage of florid, classically inspired solo piano from the excellent Neame.
Two pieces from Eger follow, beginning with “Zieding”, a tune that, like several others on this album, was included in the trio’s show at The Edge Arts Centre in Much Wenlock a year ago (reviewed elsewhere on this site). Indeed there’s a “played in” quality about much of the music on “Walking Dark” and an empathy that only comes from many hours of playing together. Hoiby describes Eger’s writing as having an “epic or majestic” quality and this is certainly borne out by the shifting, episodic “Zieding” with it’s attractive, highly melodic theme acting as the jumping off point for a virtuoso Hoiby bass solo, his meaty tone and strong melodic sense perfectly aligned. Neame’s flamboyant solo is matched by the composer’s equally bravura and colourful drumming.
The intriguingly titled “The Economist” is shorter, a busy, hard grooving piece that nods towards Eger’s rock background but features plenty of Phronesis’ muscular but sophisticated three way dialogue with the lead regularly changing hands in typical Phronesis fashion. Hoiby and Neame deliver brilliant solo statements before Eger wraps things up with a wonderfully colourful drum feature atop Neame’s exuberant chording. This is high energy stuff that is surely destined to be a great live favourite.
Neame’s final offering with the pen is “American Jesus”, a tune that he also performs with his own quintet (Hoiby, saxophonist/flautist Tory Freestone, vibraphonist Jim Hart and drummer Dave Hamblett). More urgent and groove oriented than his other two offerings here the piece has something of the knottiness of Neame’s writing for his own group with Eger negotiating the complexities of the grooves with ease and providing the springboard for Neame’s own expansive soloing on a tune that embraces numerous changes of dynamics. It’s complex but ultimately exhilarating stuff, something of a musical white knuckle ride like much of the best of the trio’s output.
The album concludes with the studio version of Hoiby’s “Eight Hours”, something of a live favourite and a piece that first appeared on the “Alive” album. This newly recorded version offers Eger the opportunity to leave his mark on a tune that he must have played many times and ends the album on an elegiac note. It’s actually one of the trio’s more lyrical pieces with a suitably warm and resonant solo from Hoiby and a richly flowing statement from Neame.
“Walking Dark” doesn’t depart significantly from the now familiar Phronesis model but it still represents a group at the peak of its creative powers. There’s still a sense of real joie de vivre and a spirit of daring about the trio’s improvisations- this is the sound of a band with total confidence in their own abilities. Phronesis are an increasingly popular concert draw in the UK as the awards continue to gather and the word continues to spread. They are also beginning to build a reputation in mainland Europe and North America too.
Phronesis will be touring the UK and Europe in support of the album. Dates as listed below;
Wednesday 11th April 2012
Phronesis @ the Bimhuis
020 - 788 2188
Piet Heinkade 3
1019 BR Amsterdam
Friday 13th April 2012
Phronesis @ Intermezzo Concert Series
Lutherkirche, Martinstra?e 39, Duisburg,
Saturday 14th April 2012
Phronesis @ C-Mine Jazz
+32 (0) 89 65 44 80
BE- 3600 Genk
Sunday 15th April 2012
Phronesis @ Vrijstaat-O
BE - 8400 Oostende
UK ?WALKING DARK’ ALBUM RELEASE TOUR
Sunday 13th May
Phronesis @ Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival
Monday 14th May
Phronesis @ The Stables, Wavendon
Tel: 01908 280800
Stockwell Lane, MILTON KEYNES,
MK17 8LU UK
Tuesday 15th May
Phronesis @ Birmingham Jazz
Tel: 0121 446 3232
MAC, Cannon Hill Park
BIRMINGHAM B12 9QH
Thursday 17th May
Phronesis @ Band On The Wall
Tickets: £12.50 advance / £14.50 on the door
Tel: 0161 834 1786
25 Swan Street, the Northern Quarter,
MANCHESTER M4 5JZ
Friday 18th May
Phronesis @ Wakefield Jazz
Time: 8.30pm (door 7.30pm)
Tel: 01977 680542
Wakefield (College Grove) Sports Club
WAKEFIELD WF1 3RR
Saturday 19th May
Phronesis @ Capstone Theatre
Tel: 0151 709 3789
Liverpool Hope University Creative Campus,
17 Shaw Street,
LIVERPOOL L6 1HP
Wednesday 23rd May
Phronesis @ the Gwyn Hall, Neath
Tel: Tel No. 0300 365 6677
Orchard St, Neath, West Glamorgan, SA11 1DU
Thursday 24th May
Phronesis @ Watermill Jazz Club
Tel: 07415 815784
Friends Life Sports and Social Club, Pixham Lane,
DORKING RH4 1QA
Friday 25th May
Phronesis @ Fleece Jazz
Tel: 01787 211865
Stoke by Nayland Hotel,
Keepers Lane, Leavenheath,
COLCHESTER, Essex, CO6 4PZ
Saturday 26th May
Phronesis @ King’s Place
** ALBUM LAUNCH **
Tel: 020 7520 1490
90 York Way,
LONDON, N1 9AG