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Phronesis, St George’s, Oct 6

October 8, 2011

Times when jazz combines instrumental virtuosity with real feeling and deep understanding between players aren’t as frequent as you’d like. What they happen, you want them again. This is what earns Phronesis return visits. They are all in lots of other bands, aren’t exactly living off the fat of the land, and suffer the vicissitudes of touring like any other bunch of itinerant jazzers. But boy, do they deliver on stage.

Two of them had come down from Glasgow after MOBO celebrations for the Kairos 4tet the night before, but they shrugged that off and got stuck in to their varied, intricate music. There was lots of new material – in the run up to a new recording – some of it from pianist Ivo Neame and drummer Anton Eger. I didn’t note any of the titles, but the new stuff is strong: not many hooks but plenty of long, unison bass and piano lines, and the usual nice balance between urgency and restraint, epitomised by Eger’s unfailingly interesting drumming. As leader Jasper Hoiby said, he’s “a man always in motion”, but he adjusted superbly to the venue – using brushes much of the time and playing a snare covered with what looked like a tea-towel. This, presumably, in deference to the unmiked piano, St George’s style – always a risk with jazz but they just about got away with it here. So we had intensity without volume, which is always good and probably helps bring out the remarkable detail in his very free accompaniment.

Eger roams wide, though returns to a prescribed spot  with pin sharp accuracy whenever an arrangement calls for it, a particular feature of the endings of their pieces. In between, they are mainly anchored by Hoiby – for my money the equal of any bassist I can think of: I wonder if Miroslav Vitous made this kind of impression as a young player, or maybe Dave Holland? We first caught sight of him in the Be-bop club about three years ago, playing with Jez Franks’ excellent quartet Compassionate Dictatorship, I think, and it was immediately clear this was a musician to look out for. Everything he’s done since has confirmed that first impression. He has an endless collection of ridiculous, catchy bass patterns – on the older piece Love Song he plays the bass and the melody line – and from centre stage his attention, and his smile, moves to each of his cohorts in turn. This is the full, post Evans, improvising trio, of three equal partners, and all pull their weight. Neame does not draw the eye like the other two, but your ears tell you he is always contributing, too.

They were off to Southampton the following day, then supporting Wayne Shorter on Saturday night. That’ll be interesting as the freewheeling style here made me think of that band at times, and I reckon the level of playing, interaction and improvisation was on a level with what Blade, Perez and Pattitucci do when Shorter lays out.

The result is deeply satisfying. There was even a good crowd, and not all of us the usual grizzled cognoscenti. “What happened to jazz?”, asked Hoiby at the start, “so many people”. Er, I think these guys did.

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