It starts with a breathtaking, agile bass pattern, rapidly descending and played with what feels like effortless accuracy. Then the drums join in – an impressive feat of dexterity and mobility, but also played with musical control and fluidity. The piano plays short, discreet melodic phrases that keep hinting at a bigger picture but never quite explicity reveal it.
This is contemporary jazz at its most thrilling, creative and airborne. Energy, intensity and interaction are in full flight. It feels weightless and it glides and dances. Immediately, it is clear that we are listening to a new Phronesis album, for this is band that has established a distinctive signature sound.
In reality, Life To Everything’s opening track Urban Control is not composed by the band’s leader, bass player and chief compositional voice Jasper Høiby, but rather by fearsome drummer Anton Eger. The band’s recent adoption of a more democratic approach to composition has paid dividends, and it continues here. It feels like Eger is very much writing specifically for Phronesis. It doesn’t feel even imaginable that Urban Control could survive translation and interpretation by another ensemble. Phronesis remains a piano trio driven and directed by the bass – perhaps this is why they continue to stand out so much from the increasingly crowded marketplace in piano trios.
Life To Everything is Phronesis’ second live album, recorded at a London Jazz Festival gig at Jazz In The Round. This regular gig at the Cockpit Theatre in London provides excellent opportunities for recording – the sound here is warm and bright and the audience play an important role too, responding to the music sometimes with whoops and cheers of delight and at others more thoughtfully. Whilst Life To Everything has many identifiable and established elements of the Phronesis sound and approach, it is more than a mere retread of previous achievements. The nature of live performance recording gives it an additional sense of risk and danger, whilst the writing and musicianship often casts a stronger spotlight on texture and contrasts in volume.
One of pianist Ivo Neame’s contributions, Phraternal (see what they did there?) deploys some relatively unusual characteristics (at least as far as this band is concerned). Anton Eger’s drums, played delicately with brushes, bristle and sigh. There is a keening sense of melancholy that contrasts markedly with the urgency and authority of the uptempo opener. Høiby plays some mournful bowed bass. This feels like a rare opening of a wound, an admission of some kind of vulnerability or uncertainty, a confession of a secret – the kinds of things that happen when relationships have been fostered diligently over a period of time.
Elsewhere, there are other fascinating extensions of the Phronesis sound world. The tremendous Song For Lost Nomads has a delightfully kinetic, folk dance quality, whilst Herne Hill shifts unexpectedly between pretty melodic moments and complex groove sections. There is an infectious zeal to everything here, along with an obvious mastery. Phronesis are a trio operating at the dazzling limits of musical pursuit.