The Copenhagen-born double bassist has had strong connections with the British jazz scene since he came to London in 2000 to study at the Royal Academy. His trio, Phronesis, with pianist Ivo Neame and drummer Anton Eger, has enjoyed great international success among fans and critics alike, and it’s as a result of that band that we can feel we have come to know Høiby’s writing as well as his playing.
So in many ways Fellow Creatures feels familiar, particularly as on the title track where there is a busy, fidgety rhythm moving tirelessly beneath the folk-like melodic elements of that are layered above it – if that rhythm and those elements were limited to piano, bass and drums it would be a classic Phronesis piece. But here, the styles of the drummer and pianist – Corrie Dick and Will Barry – are subtly different, and they are joined by the trumpet of Laura Jurd and the saxophone of Mark Lockheart. As would be mathematically confirmed, there is not just a three-plus-two expansion in potential but a multiplying effect: melody lines burst out over one another, the internal pulses, tensions and releases spring forth, the range of timbres add further richness, the interplay between instruments explodes.
Song Of The Bees has a distinctly South African feel to both groove and tune, while also moving in a flamenco direction and adding darker flashes to the harmony – it dispenses with piano to give horns and percussion a dance centred around the leader’s core. Tangible proves that even when things are shifting and sliding around in the band there is still much for the listener to get a handle on. Once I can get past the striking similarity between Folk Song‘s opening line and the rather irritating I’m Walking In The Air tune from The Snowman, which luckily soon fades from the mind, it’s simply terrific. World Of Contradictions has a light dance feel to it which is then made more nuanced and given a darker hue as it progresses. Plastic Island opens with a laugh and is a darkly comic closer to the album, a kind of circus music for grotesqueries, though Høiby can’t help even this having a certain strange beauty.
There is a distinctive arranging skill in Hoiby’s music which dispenses with the jazz convention (clichéd by now?) of head-solos-head structures. Even where those underlying elements might still remain, they are well-enough disguised. Mostly tunes are mixed in with improvisations, and the roles within the band are never quite lead instrument and accompaniment – everyone is doing both simultaneously, taking the melodic intiative in turn, passing it on in relay, or coming together in a two, three, four or five-way dance/conversation.
There have been times in a Phronesis album when the complexity and rush of the music can leave me agog with astonishment at the technical prowess of the music and hugely exhilarated but incapable of much “understanding”. It would have been easy to add even more complexity and informational overload with two additional instruments, but ironically the increase in band size has slowed things down a little, and, to my ears, added more emotional depth and – yes, I don’t think this is an over-the-top word – profundity to the music.
Maybe it’s the big topics Høiby is tackling with this album? Not only are the titles inspired by the Naomi Klein book This Changes Everything, which confronts the environmental and economic crises of our age, but it is also underscored by Jasper Høiby’s feelings about the loss of his sister who died earlier this year.
All five musicians sound in superb form but special mention to Laura Jurd who really is beginning to match the strength, depth and character of her fellow horn player Mark Lockheart – their back and forth solo interaction is one of the chief delights in a recording packed full of them.
This already sounds like an exceptionally fine album and I have a sneaking suspicion that with a few years of listening added it will be feeling like a truly great one.
- Fellow Creatures gets an album launch on Saturday 10 September at Kings Place in London. More information HERE.
Categories: CD review