Live review 'Jazzahead 2014' Allaboutjazz

Prior to Persson's award, a single composition was performed by Phronesis, a trans-European piano trio with, appropriately, one Dane (bassist Jasper Hoiby, who now lives in London), a Swede (drummer Anton Eger) and one Brit (pianist Ivo Neame, but that only whet the appetite for the trio's full thirty-minute showcase that evening. In some ways the trio's participation at Jazzahead might seem a bit odd, given it's not only got five recordings out—its most recent, Life to Everything (2014), on the UK-based Edition Records label just like the group's previous two, beginning with Alive (2010)—but the threesome have spent significant time traveling in Europe, North America (USA and Canada) and other places abroad. Still, this was a trio of highly motivated individuals and any opportunity to spread the word and expand its potential was one to be taken.

It was a particularly treat to run into Neame and Eger again, so soon after seeing them in Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset's stellar quartet at Jazzkaar 2014 in Tallinn, Estonia just two evenings prior. While both have, over the past half decade, emerged as inimitable players no matter what the context, something different happens when they come together with Høiby in Phronesis, a fact hammered home with particular emphasis when all three (these days, Danish bassist Petter Eldh has replaced Høiby in Neset's quartet) played together in Neset's Golden Xplosion group at the saxophonist's incendiary showcase at Jazzahead! 2012.

The trio's Jazzahead! 2014 was no less exciting as it launched into "Urban Control," the opening track to Life to Everything, another live recording that began with Høiby's virtuosic a cappella intro before Neame and Eger joined in for one of five pieces defined by knotty passages, staggering stops and starts and, well, just an overall complexity that somehow managed to seem completely effortless in the hands of these three outstanding musicians. While there's absolutely nothing that begs comparison to Esbjorn Svensson and his trio, e.s.t., while everyone has been looking for "the next e.s.t." since the Swedish pianist died tragically in a diving accident in 2008, the truth is that the answer may well be right here under everyone's noses.

Phronesis may not have the pop sensibility that yielded some of e.s.t.'s appeal, but the trio's relentless drive has resulted in a slow-building reputation and success that could well be on the verge of becoming something bigger; certainly its full show at the 2012 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal was as good an example of a trio whose playful approach to its rigorous yet open-ended music—music that has, thus far, managed to completely avoid the element of sameness that was beginning to filter into e.s.t.'s until, paradoxically and more than the least bit tragically, the release of its final ACT recording made before Svensson's passing, 2008's Leucocyte—is making fans on both sides of the Atlantic, and whose every new recording since its 2007 Loop debut, Organic Warfare, seems to garner Høiby, Eger and Neame increasing critical and popular acclaim.

The trio also has a curious but successful combination of characters: Eger, the crazy man of the group, with extreme facial expressions mirroring an approach to the kit that's just as outrageous, at times, as it is subtle and nuanced at others; Neame the quiet one who maintains eye contact with his trio mates but rarely cracks more than a slight smile; and Høiby, the true heart of the group, positioned center-stage and looking back and forth between Neame and Eger with something ranging from bemusement to flat-out amusement. Its fiery set may have been brief, but it only served to prove, once again, that Phronesis is one of but a few European piano trios with real— and sustainable—international potential.
- John Kelman