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Phronesis / Julian Argüelles / Frankfurt Radio Big Band: The Behemoth

Karl Ackermann By

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Long regarded as the European piano trio filling a void left by the Esbjorn Svensson Trio, Phronesis has been continually evolving since their debut Organic Warfare (Loop Records, 2007). Their philosophy has been consistent across the past ten years—regarding the root "Americanisms" of jazz as anachronistic rather than required methodology, Phronesis has freed itself to absorb jazz influences in equal parts to classical, regional folk and rock inspirations. Not surprisingly, adding fifteen musicians to the mix results in a completely innovative dynamic as presented on The Behemoth.

Phronesis was formed in 2005 by Jasper Høiby, a Danish bassist. Together with UK pianist Ivo Neame and Swedish drummer Anton Eger, the trio—all of whom are contributing composers—they have gathered a plethora of awards and recognition that have often included the words "best of....." Ironically, their third release Alive (Edition Records, 2010) which received "Best Album" honors from two prestigious British publications, featured American drummer Mark Guiliana filling in for Eger. So perhaps a second irony is that none of the self-selected covers on The Behemoth come from that acclaimed album.

As the name implies, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band had its origins in the public broadcasting network of Germany and dates back to the immediate post-WWII period. The modern-era orchestra has worked with many prominent jazz artists including John Scofield, Gary Burton, The Bad Plus and Django Bates. With close ties to Bates (Loose Tubes), Julian Argüelles has been commissioned to write and arrange for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, Frankfurt Radio Big Band, and Phronesis. On The Behemoth he serves as conductor and arraigner, playing tenor saxophone on one piece.

The album begins with Neame's "Ok Chorale" from Parallax (Edition Records, 2016). Given a fresh approach, the tune's highlight is a tenor saxophone solo from multi-reedist Tony Lakatos. The trio, for their part, come very close in replicating the original piece, early on, but the big band quickly overshadows them. The orchestra adds a darker feel to "Untitled #1" (Høiby) when compared to the Organic Warfare (Loop Records, 2007) original. Neame's piano works its way through and the core trio takes center stage briefly. The piece features the guitar work of Martin Scale who solos once again on the closing number "Happy Notes" from Green Delay (Loop Records, 2009). The most fully orchestrated composition is "Stillness" (also from Parallax), where Oliver Leicht and Steffen Weber are featured on clarinet and tenor saxophone, respectively.

The outstanding "Herne Hill" from Life to Everything (Edition Records, 2014) sounds like a note-for-note replication of the original, with Neame and Høiby engaging each other in a rousing, fast-paced exchange. At the mid-point of the piece, Peter Feil takes a trombone solo that adds a rich, new personality to the arrangement. The only new composition on the album is the brief "Intro to Urban Control" where Argüelles shares writing credits with Eger. Eger's own "Urban Control" (also from Life to Everything) follows. Slowed down just a tad from the original, the focus is on the trio and Argüelles' tenor sax.

While The Behemoth is not "jazz with orchestra," neither is it simply an augmented trio album. The interruption of those small group dynamics does not happen in the abstract. This is outstanding music, performed by world-class artists, but it is nevertheless, it is Phronesis embedded in another universe and so preconceptions should be left at the door. The trio has never been about hooks and hummable phrases nor do they operate with the typical mechanics of a piano trio. Piano melodies have often been second to the dominant bass, the drums, more often than not, are tactile, intertwining Høiby and Neame with a light touch. This variation on a formation is highly successful and a great way to hear Phronesis in a new setting.

Track Listing: Ok Chorale; Untitled#1; Stillness; Herne Hill; Charm Defensive; Zieding; Phraternal; Intro to Urban Control; Urban Control; Happy Notes.

Personnel: Julian Argüelles: arranger, conductor, tenor saxophone solo on #9; Jasper Høiby: double bass; Ivo Neame: piano; Anton Eger: drums. Frankfurt Radio Big Band: Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, flute, piccolo; Oliver Leicht: alto saxophone, clarinet; Tony Lakatos: tenor saxophone, alto flute; Steffen Weber: tenor saxophone; Rainer Heute: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Frank Wellert, Thomas Vogel, Martin Auer, Axel Schlosser: trumpet, flugelhorn; Günter Bollmann, Peter Feil: trombone; Christian Jaksjø: trombone, bass trumpet; Manfred Honetschläger: bass trombone; Martin Scales: guitar.

Title: The Behemoth | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Edition Records


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