INTERVIEW: Phronesis (Dèjà Vu at Pizza Express Dean Street, 14-17 June)

Phronesis: L-R Ivo Neame, Anton Eger, Jasper Høiby
Photo credit: Peter van Breukelen

Phronesis will be performing five gigs at Pizza Express Dean Street from 14-17 June, covering their entire back catalogue of material recorded for Edition, under the heading Déjà Vu. The five gigs are part of the 10th anniversary celebrations of Edition Records (the label they have been on since 2010). They are also about to record their sixth album for the label (*). All three members of the group – Jasper Høiby, Anton Eger and Ivo Neame – contributed to the interview and the responses were co-ordinated by Jasper. Interview by Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: What is the secret of the trio that stays together and wants to go on developing?

Phronesis: We stay together because we still stimulate and challenge each other musically and because we are very good friends. We all write for this band so it’s a priority to each of us individually in many ways and that definitely helps. But we also think it’s important to think about the common goals and strengths – to realise that the trio is greater than the sum of its parts and work towards achieving the best result possible for the group.

LJN: Jasper, you once mentioned to me that you feel the band continues to get better – in what ways did you mean that?

Phr: We continue to find things to explore as well as refining things that are already part of our language. And we keep discovering new things together. In the last couple of years we feel like we have moved up another notch and something seems to have happened which makes it all feel even more organic than it did from the beginning. Dynamics are a big part of our sound now, so in many ways we have come a long way since the beginning. The ’sixth sense’ on stage has grown to new levels and so has our willingness to help each other play the best we can.

LJN: And all three of you enjoy writing for the band. Are there differences in the process depending on who has written?

Phr: We are all three very different characters and our approach to writing is different too. The goal is to deliver strong material that will work for this specific group, and since we know each other's playing very well, that is an ongoing thing which keeps developing. We still use the same approach to writing though – we all write individually and bring the music to the trio and then we might change things, or not, depending on what the music requires.

LJN: In your live gigs you always include repertoire from the previous albums. Roughly how much of the material is currently in your sets and how much have you had to resurrect for the series in June?

Phr: Probably 50-60% needs to be refreshed. We had a listen to some of those albums the other day in the car whilst touring in Spain. There’s a lot we can’t even remember having ever played! :)

LJN: You do up to 50 gigs a year – are there any recent gigs that really stand out for a reason?

Phr: Playing The Behemoth at North Sea Jazz Festival last year with the New Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra was incredible, Monterey Jazz Festival in 2013 was super special, São Paulo a couple of years ago was amazing and of course also some of the Pitch Black gigs in total darkness, like the first one we did at Brecon Jazz Festival and after that at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Even our very first time playing together on a random street corner in the streets of Copenhagen still stands out so clearly. It’s wild to think how all these hundreds of concerts grow into our collective consciousness and become part of our common DNA, and I guess that’s why the band is so precious and worth keeping together.

LJN: Critics, eh... there were a couple of criticisms/suggestions in John Fordham's review of Parallax : 1) " The whisper-to-roar pattern of their pieces could use a little adjustment." 2) "I’d love to hear Phronesis apply their wizardry to a cover or two.” Any thoughts?

Phr: We all work hard to vary the dynamic contour of all our pieces. Sometimes there will be big build-ups but it has to be pointed out that there are plenty of tunes where the dynamics are much more contained. We’re all aware of the clichés and the hackneyed inevitability of a jazz musician “giving it the big one” during a gig or a record; however we think one of the best features of the band is that we have many different ways of using dynamics to create contrast.

The second comment is probably meant well, but we can’t help thinking it’s funny how it’s missing the entire point of the band. From day one we have been attempting to produce original music and create our own sound. We have considered doing covers many times, but always decided against it, as we don’t see it as something that we do. It might even help us get more popular, and I’m sure that’s why many people choose to go in that direction, but again it’s not for us. This band is a vehicle for all three of our compositions and we have chosen to prioritise that above playing covers of other composers.

LJN: By the time you perform the June gigs I understand you will have made another album – your sixth for Edition? Any clues? When will it be out?

Phr: Yes that’s right, the next album will be our sixth for Edition and our eighth in total, and the worldwide release date is planned for September 2018. We’ll be touring the new material in the UK in October/November this year. There’s a plan to release a Japanese imprint too, so that’s exciting.

LJN:  The house is burning and you can only save one Phronesis album. Which one does each of you grab first?

Phr: The next one!

(*) It has been recorded in the few days between the writing of the interview and publication. 

LINK: The full Phronesis Edition 10 programme

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