Phronesis is one of the few European new jazz bands about which music critics of any generation are in almost total agreement, as has been noted in most of the major rankings of 2014. And their most recent work, Life to Everything, is a further leap forward in the already consolidated production of this group, whose leader is the magnificent Danish bassist Jasper Højby, also the composer of all the tracks in the band’s first two albums, and of most of the previous one. In Life to Everything, however, the boys shared the composition equally, each one responsible for three pieces. Most certainly, the band’s secret lies in the exceptional musical and personal balance of an ensemble in which each element stands out on its own so much that it is never subordinate to another, in an eternal playful game of tag. It is quite incredible: they always rise to each other’s heights. Not that in other bands the leaders crush the others, but Phronesis deploys not only a great pianist, the British Ivo Neame, but also the best double bassist and the best drummer (the Norwegian-Swede Anton Eger) of their generation. Phronesis overwhelms with its pulsating and propulsive style, maintaining a rock band energy that viscerally touches the listener, especially when live. This is why their album was recorded live instead of in the studio: it bears that seal of emotional contagion. No coincidence that the title of the album is the ending of a Plato quote, which is displayed on the CD cover: "Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, […] and life to everything".
New jazz at the nth power, innovation, groove and a mixture of rhythms, often Latin as well, from flamenco to Afro-Cuban, passing through Brazil.
The first track, "Urban Control," is one of Eger’s, and it starts with juggling drums that engage a very modern piano reef – almost danceable thanks to its small Latin tones, with moments that almost suggest flamenco swaying and stomping, with a magnificent Højby solo toward the end.
In the second – "Phraternal" – Højby begins with his bow and the tone becomes more melancholic, intimate. Eger uses his brushes, and Neame (who composed the piece) mostly improvises on his piano, climbing up and down the keyboard, ending up removing keys rather than adding them. He works on dissonances, independent from the double bass, and returns to the melodic for only short moments, while Eger greatly varies his style, even putting an echo of flamenco in the finale.
"Behind Bars" is Højby’s first composition on the album and it begins with a delicious solo that dictates melody to the piano over Eger’s sometimes very fast tapping, up to a long improvisation, first from the piano and then from the double bass, with very complex, rapid passages. A faint echo of Brazilian jazz fusion from the seventies gives a nice vintage feel to this piece.
"Song for Lost Nomads" can be recognized as another of Neame’s compositions by its initially more thoughtful and intimate tone, but it turns into something more Latin as soon as Eger starts using his one hundred hands to give an insistent percussiveness to this piece, to which Neame seems to surrender.
A yearning attack from "Wings 2 the Mind", in which Højby, after a soft start with the bow, builds a rhythm with the drums over which the piano has an upbeat and even backbeat feel, creating an innovative sense of "delay" that gives an unmistakable style to the track.
Eger really seems to be having fun in "Nine Lives" with its continuous fast changes over the patterns laid by Højby, who composed this and the following piece.
The seventh track is the least intimate of those composed by Neame, and it is indeed quite neurotic and relentless, and in a sense a prelude to the final two, composed by Eger. In the first ("Herne Hill"), the others are beautifully forced to run like crazy to keep up with an unleashed and Latin Anton, who subsides only halfway for an interlude before taking up a new flight of notes and breathtaking beats. The second and final piece of the album, "Dr. Black," begins with a classic and almost pompous posture to end up raising the pace again with a totally granitic Højby and Eger constantly changing tempos and style, producing a fantastic solo toward the end, while Neame dots every note with rapid elegance.
“Life to Everything”, Edition Records, 2014
- Urban Control
- Behind Bars
- Song for Lost Nomads
- Wings 2 the Mind
- Nine lives
- Deep Space Dance
- Herne Hill
- Dr Black
Jasper Højby: double bass
Ivo Neame: piano
Anton Eger: drums
Translation editor: Ellen McRae