Phronesis' Pitch Black: London, UK, November 16, 2011

Matthew Ellis By

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Phronesis Pitch Black
Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall
London, England
November 16, 2011

Latecomers might have thought the Purcell Room was experiencing technical difficulties. The punctual, however, knew the lights were out for Pitch Black. This project, unveiled at Brecon, featured Phronesis playing in total darkness. Officially the show simulates the experience of bassist [Jasper] Høiby's blind sister but it also indulges the trio's penchant for challenges.

Illuminated for the first half, the visual contact underwriting the band's coherent blend of fiendishly complex rhythms and guiltily melodic piano lines was evident. As the lights faded for the second half, however, they offered a revealing final glimpse of the trio exchanging looks of unfeigned trepidation. Stripped of visual cues their risky improvisational music now relied solely on what Høiby calls the band's "magical" connection. Avoiding advance planning the trio admitted to few darkened practice-sessions. Occasionally, as when "Green Delay" opened off-pitch and took a few bars to right itself, this meant that darkness threatened their complex music with breakdown. But, as pianist Ivo Neame suggested, rehearsing away every mistake would have devalued the attempt to empathize with Høiby's sister and, more importantly, diminished the challenge posed by the show.

The evening proved as challenging for spectators as performers. Ripples of tension swimming through the audience alongside the band's writhing polyrhythms were so palpable that a concerned Høiby repeatedly enquired after their wellbeing. Mobile phones, flickering in the darkness to betray overwhelmed audience members departing early, were repeatedly targeted by Høiby's wit but even these jokes sought to put the audience at ease in the darkness.

Pitch Black represents a logical step for a band whose progress requires challenges. Their music having shaken up the jazz scene they now unsettle the very environment in which it is experienced: darkness simultaneously stretches even experienced musicians and listeners. On tonight's showing, the future bodes challenging for Phronesis, fans and band alike, but we are at least all in it together.

[Editor's Note: Now in its tenth year The Write Stuff is run by UK's Jazzwise magazine in partnership with the London Jazz Festival, to give new writers the opportunity to improve their writing skills and develop an understanding of jazz criticism and the music press by working with professional journalists, as well as getting to see a stack of festival concerts. The Write Stuff includes sessions on feature writing and live reviews; an insight into the history and development of the UK jazz and music press; online journalism; and input from other writers and jazz industry figures.

2011 participants will have their work posted on both the Jazzwise and LJF's websites, and one review considered to be of particular merit will be published in the February 2012 edition of Jazzwise, and reprinted at All About Jazz, in order to bring attention to an up-and-coming writer on the UK scene.]

Photo Credit
Cat Monroe

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