Phronesis ‘Parallax’ LP/CD/DIG (Edition) 4/5

phronesis“Parallax” is the 6th album from the Scandinavian/British jazz trio. Formed in 2005 by Danish double bass player Jasper Hoiby, their charismatic and unburdened approach to music making has seen the band receive much critical acclaim, including a 2014 MOBO Award nomination. Alongside Hoiby, pianist Ivo Neame and drummer Anton Eger have successfully fashioned their own style and sound, with the threesome gaining an enviable following from jazz circles and beyond. Their energy and focussed direction are rarely matched, with their live performances in particular marking them out as something special. Parallels can be made with the course chartered by the Swedish trio EST; perhaps in more ways than one. When EST first broke onto the European jazz scene, there was something fresh, bright and bold about the trio. They wowed jazz audiences with their energy, technical brilliance, and emotive journeying into the depths of the music they performed, seemingly relishing the task of unleashing surprises alongside a tight, melodic lyricism, unafraid of taking chances. And much the same could be said of Phronesis; daring to be bold and shining brightly with musical brilliance. A trio in the truest of senses, where all three musicians are equals, all of equal importance to the dynamic and development of the music being made over a number of years. Up until the extremely sad and untimely death of pianist Esbjorn Svensson, EST toured and recorded year in, year out, and although, in my opinion, they never really made a ‘weak’ album, the element of surprise and audaciousness gradually waned… or at least appeared to, if only because we, the listeners, became familiar with their sound. I’m sure that the music itself was none the less startling, but we kind of knew what to expect. And this, perhaps, is where we are at with Phronesis. “Parallax” is an excellent album, with the trio continuing to astound at times, but it is perhaps becoming a little familiar. Too much of a good thing maybe? Who knows. Are they still making brilliant music? Are they still intergalactically interconnected in their interplay? Are they still full of energy and entertainment? Yes to all of the above.

Nine original compositions begin with the aptly titled “67,000 MPH”. Sparks fly from the off on this single day Abbey Road session. The characteristic sound of Eger’s unrelentingly energetic and inventive drumming is well matched by the muscular and angular bass playing of Hoiby, and the rhythmically darting diversity of pianist Neame. It’s like they’re on a mission and nothing, absolutely nothing is going to stand in their way. “OK Chorale” is a gunfight of mighty proportions, bullets ricocheting from one instrument to another. Hoiby’s luscious bowed bass leads the listener into “Stillness”, one of the deepest and most rewarding pieces of music on the album, a glowing example of how well the trio work together and are able to develop a tune from beginning to end. Whilst “A Kite For Seamus” has an edgy romanticism to it, “Just 4 Now” has a stop-start feel to it, lavish in its independent spirit. “Ayu” is filled with intrigue, prodding and probing as it journeys on with its killer bass lines, percussive piano and driving drums. Two of my favourite tracks come towards the end of the recording. The first is “A Silver Moon”, with a melodic beauty and softer touch. A nice change of pace, expertly performed by the trio. The second is the quirky “Manioc Maniac”, an off kilter blues given the Phronesis treatment, bold and mouth-wateringly enigmatic. The album closes with “Rabat”, an oddly infectious folk tune turned jazz/rock anthem.

And so the trio journey on, producing high quality music to an ever-increasing audience. And although one could argue apt use of the phrase ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, might one also dare to suggest that there comes a time when something slightly different would be welcomed? A change of pace or a diversion along a different path perhaps? Who’s to say. For now, at least, we have another very good album to enjoy.

Mike Gates