REVIEW: Phronesis with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band at Milton Court (2015 EFG LJF)



Julian Arguelles directing Phronesis and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band
Photo credit: Cat Munro


Phronesis with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band.
(Milton Court. 22 November. 2015 EFG LJF. Review by Jon Turney)


If ever a piano trio seemed complete unto itself, Phronesis surely do. Jasper Høiby’s bass can double a piano line as readily as laying down a rhythmic figure that is as insistent as it is hard to follow. Anton Eger has equal rhythmic panache allied to an orchestral concept of percussion. Ivo Neame on piano brings improvisational prowess that keeps the other two constantly on their toes.

Still, good music is always generative, as this gig confirmed most satisfyingly. For their tenth anniversary, the trio celebrated with a commission for Julian Argüelles to arrange some of their back catalogue for the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. The results, at a debut gig in Germany and this London Jazz Festival show, were magnificent.

The trio have always had compositional flair to match their improvisational fervour and Argüelles must have had a taxing time selecting which pieces, and which elements of each piece, to highlight. He remarked on how much detail there is in the trio’s music. That’s not rare in a jazz group but certainly a challenge for one trying to find room to add to their work.

Nonetheless, the conductor (none of his own peerless saxophone playing this afternoon) affirmed the superb arranging skills recently highighted on his recording of South African jazz themes with the same band. He opened out an hour and a half’s worth of Phronesis’ music in ways both intriguing and rewarding. An old (still) untitled piece opened with a rich horn fanfare with piano ornamentation before the rhythm kicked in. From that opening statement of intent through to a three horn front line re-working of Urban Control, there were countless moments when the big band’s collective skills augmented and enhanced familiar music. They accumulated partly from the solo strength in depth in Frankfurt’s massed ranks, notably from Martin Scales on guitar, and Ollie Leicht on clarinet as well as the band’s trumpet and trombone sections. The trio responded readily to the new arrangements, Anton Eger energising a big band as to the manner born, and Neame playing at his very best. Add Høiby’s usual droll announcements punctuating his jaw-dropping contributions on bass, and there was really something for everyone.

A remarkable set that left two lasting impressions. As with the best Phronesis gigs, there was almost too much to take in. And there is joy in collaboration when musical intelligences that are as strong, yet open-minded, as the trio and their arranger here come together, and combine to create something new, the big band truly becoming an extension of Phronesis’ musical world. I don’t know if that can happen again, but I’m told the German show was recorded, so here’s hoping there’s a chance to dig into this set at leisure soon.

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