Phronesis are a dynamic trio who need little introduction. Their fourth album, Walking Dark, is the highly anticipated follow-up to the acclaimed Alive [Edition EDN1021], which was voted Jazz Album of the Year by both Jazzwise and MOJO magazines in 2010. Since the success of this release, the band has toured widely across Europe and North America, earning consistent praise for their vibrant live performances. Formed by Danish bass player Jasper Høiby in 2005, the energy and individuality of Phronesis comes from an extraordinary democracy of expression and almost telepathic empathy between the musicians - three of the finest players on the European jazz scene today. British pianist Ivo Neame and Swedish drummer Anton Eger come together with Høiby to create a poly-rhythmic sound that is utterly accessible despite its underlying complexity, full of emotion and heart yet always delivered with clarity and direction. Walking Dark is titled in reference to a series of concerts the trio played in total darkness as a dedication to Høiby s visually impaired sister. Høiby describes Walking Dark as a joint Phronesis adventure - the first album in which all members of the band contribute to the writing, as well as the arranging. Yet through these individual compositional textures, each track nevertheless displays the characteristic groove-driven 'Phronesis sound', incorporating constantly shifting yet expertly tight rhythmic patterns and exploratory openness. The album sees all three players reaching further than ever before, creating music that by turns drives with urban energy and resonates with mountainous space and sheer delightful abstraction.
The fourth album from this trio comprising Danish bassist Jasper Hoiby, British pianist Ivo Neame and Swedish drummer Anton Eger (and the third since Neame replaced original pianist Magnus Hjorth) is named after a series of concerts played in total darkness as a dedication to Hoiby’s sister, who lost her sight to cataracts. But, in terms of the album as a whole, the key track title is Democracy. Hoiby describes this album as "a joint Phronesis adventure," acknowledging the fact that this is the first time the writing duties have been shared, rather than relying on the tall, equine bassist to generate all the grooves himself. Here, Neame and Eger contribute half of the 12 tracks, Hoiby the other half.
What’s really arresting is how, despite this new democracy of inputs, the album coheres around what we might call the ‘Phronesis sound’ – that is, complex, tumbling riffs played with irresistible, headlong momentum and leaping joie de vivre. Moreover, that unity of purpose extends beyond the compositional credits. Like the American trio M, Phronesis is emerging as a truly leaderless unit. The uncanny level of empathy generated in these performances gives the impression of a group mind, of instantaneous collective decisions executed flawlessly in the heat of the moment. Even during the solos, it feels as if the three musicians are soaring together. Factor in Hoiby and Neame’s habit of stating central melodies with bass and piano in unison as a single, singing voice, and the album could stand as a definitive statement of close musical comradeship.
All of which shouldn’t detract for a second from the quality of the individual musicianship: Hoiby’s profound lyrical gift is allied to a killer groove instinct; Eger’s polyrhythms, punctuated by snipping hi-hats and bull’s-eye rim-shots, summon a great, galloping energy; and Neame’s capricious runs convey some of the same whinnying, Iberian prance as Chick Corea’s classic track Spain. When it all comes together, it feels like the music is straining at the reins – a powerful, barely controllable muscular heft, revelling in its own swift mobility.
Phronesis’s 2010 album, Alive, was a breakthrough moment for the trio, bringing them to a wider international audience. With the release of Walking Dark, Hoiby, Neame and Eger might soon be very big names indeed.
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