the Greek, the word phronesis translates into practical
intelligence. The music of Phronesis, the critically acclaimed
multi-national European jazz trio, can be profitably compared
to a bridge or practical next step that takes the evolving jazz
listener from the rock-fusion of let’s say England’s
Neil Cowley to the more challenging (satisfying) realm of pure
jazz, where composition takes a consensual back seat to improvisation.
distinguishes this trio is its pure sound and fresh approach to
acoustic space. They bring attention to themselves through their
deep commitment to a stripped down, unadorned sound and exceptional
complicity, refusing the easy grab of ear-stopping dissonance,
affected time signatures and unwieldy sonic architecture.
their tenth year, they were one of the unheadlined highlights
of the 2015
Montreal International Jazz Festival, performing
tracks from their most recent album Life To Everything
(2014) , which followed their highly praised Walking Dark.
Their refined sound was beautifully accommodated by the acoustically
exquisite Salle Gesù venue, where they quickly won over
listeners who were not familiar with their music.
musicians, consisting of Jasper Høiby (double bass), Ivo
Neame (piano) and Anton Eger (percussion), have always been equal
partners in their playing and recording, but with their latest
CD, they now equally share in the song writing: each musician
contributed three tracks to the nine.
the piano supplying most of the improvisation, Denmark’s
Jasper Høiby is the self-effacing driving force of the
group. It is his very personal feel, the deliciously organic,
measured thud of his bass that divvies up, divides up, verticalizes
and contours their upfront, earthy sound. Providing the elevated
train tracks to compositions that never lose sight of the end
journey, he’s always quietly in the forefront, offering
sympathetic support to especially the pianist. Depending on the
mood of the moment, one which the players are evolving in real
time, his bass lines can be laconic or packed tight like a sound
barrier, usually in response to Neame testing the outer limits
of the composition.
especially in the piano trio context, the pianist plays a central
role. Neame’s improvising was at times mechanical in that
you could from time to time recognize an exciting interval unconvincingly
reappear note for note in another track. Instead of keying into,
responding to the nuances of the composition’s distinctness,
the pianist instead imposed what he was comfortable playing, unworried
that he was choosing the wrong colours, or colours that didn’t
work well with the main themes. Just as no two films generate
the same review, no two compositions should generate the exact
same improvisational lines. “Rabat” was one of the
evening’s forgettable moments.
when the pianist gets it right (he often does), the trio ranks
among the best. As such, the group is a work in progress, just
entering its maturity.
to distinguish itself from the Bad Plus, the group’s drummer,
Anton Eger, keeps the decibels agreeably low while being very
capable, for the sake of the concept, to break the rules or establish
new ones: he has no qualms about playing a song or a section of
a song on the rim. Whether it’s a wake up call or a warning
shot from the bow or a final breath, at the dictates of the moment,
it is especially the prerogative of the drummer to completely
recast the song with a well conceived sound-effected sequence
of percussion – and when it works, it becomes one of those
moments the listener takes home with him.
for the most part a very agreeable evening of music, I’m
convinced that Phronesis’s best music is yet to come. The
ingredients and talent are there – what remains is more
self-editing and discipline.
needs more groups like Phronesis because they illuminate the essence
of a genre that -- in its present obsession with being hip, or
too much concerned with mixing it up with rap and hip-hop, regardless
of self-evident compatibility issues -- is losing site of its