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Phronesis: Alive

Chris May By

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Copenhagen-born, London-based bassist Jasper Høiby has made a lot of noise—in both senses, all of it good—since graduating from the Royal Academy of Music and forming Phronesis in 2005. Høiby is a mainstay of several bands associated with the Loop and F-IRE musicians' collectives, and Alive is his third album with his own Phronesis, following Organic Warfare (2007) and Green Delay (2009), both on Loop Records. It was recorded over two nights at London's Forge Arts venue in March 2010 for keyboard player Dave Stapleton's Edition Records.

Edition has acquired a reputation for high production values, and here it has done Phronesis proud. In performance, the group can make even the late e.s.t. in all its rock-out pomp sound a little lightweight, driven hard as it is by Høiby's big, fat sound and deep grooves, and the vigorous drumming of Anton Eger—here replaced, due to his unavoidable absence from the Forge Arts gigs, by the equally highly-charged Mark Guiliana, an alumni of bassist Avishai Cohen's group. Edition engineer Matt Robertson has captured the passion of Phronesis live to create real edge-of-your-seat excitement.

Phronesis, however, is not your typical, common or garden groove machine. For a start, Høiby's writing—all the eight tunes here are originals, seven of them from the earlier albums—is complex, and for all their muscular intensity, his grooves and ostinatos are complex and shape-shifting. On top of that, pianist Ivo Neame—who joined the lineup with Green Delay—likes to work across rather than on the grooves, his expansive lyricism bringing a tension, and a degree of interest, to the music which simple groove-adherence would not deliver.

The relative weakness in Phronesis is in the compositions, which don't in themselves stick in the mind for long. But this is almost an irrelevance, because what ultimately makes the band so engaging is the interaction between the three players. And here, Høiby's choice of drummer dep was a good one, because Guiliana—who must, surely, have had some rehearsals beforehand—fits right in from the get go, bouncing off Høiby's lines with casual panache.

Too many albums, in the noughties, have outstayed their welcome with playing times far in excess of an hour. Less, often, is more. But Alive, which clocks in at over 73 minutes, is compelling without pause. It may "only" be a live recording, but the disc is certain to remain a landmark in Phronesis' catalogue for years to come.

Track Listing: Blue Inspiration; French; Eight Hours; Abraham's New Gift; Rue Cing Diamants; Happy Notes; Love Song; Untitled #2.

Personnel: Jasper Høiby: double-bass; Ivo Neame: piano; Mark Guiliana: drums.

Title: Alive | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Edition Records

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CD/LP/Track Review
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