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Showing posts with label Phronesis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Phronesis. Show all posts

Friday, 15 November 2019

Julia Hülsmann Quartet at Cambridge International Jazz Festival 2019 : A collective with its own convictions

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

15 November

This is a review of Julia Hülsmann Quartet, who played at The Bateman Auditorium at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, as part of Cambridge International Jazz Festival 2019, on Friday 15 November 2019 at 8.30 p.m.

This performance, on the third day of Cambridge International Jazz Festival 2019 and at the start of its first weekend (as it runs from Wednesday 13 to Sunday 24 November 2019 - this was #UCFF's first gig in the 2019 Festival), was part of a celebration of 50 years of ECM Records (for whom Julia Hülsmann records) - and ahead of her quartet's appearing at EFG London Jazz Festival 2019 :

The Purcell Room in The Southbank Centre
on Sunday 17 November 2019 at 2.30 p.m.

Personnel (alphabetically) :

* Julia Hülsmann ~ pf
* Uli Kempendorff ~ tnr
* Heinrich Köbberling ~ perc
* Marc Muellbauer ~ db

First set :

The set began with a (1) laid-back samba¹ (?), after Julia Hülsmann (on piano) had syncopated and sub-divided the rhythmic-pattern of the opening material, and we had accommodated to the discord of its note-sequences. Although Hülsmann is nominally the leader of the quartet, this collective of player / composers dispenses largely with the notion of someone who determines tempi, the order of solos*, and whether and when they shall be cut short.

So we were arguably to hear as much from Uli Kempendorff during the evening, which we first did as he played a floaty and gently breathy tenor over a firm bass-line, and then moved into one characteristic of, especially, the opening set : runs of a somewhat nervy (not to say Angst-ridden) character. With the return of the initial statement, and its disrupted format, this opening number concluded.

Hülsmann introduced the members of the ensemble, and also (2) ‘Streiflicht’, the next piece (its origins in light, coming from varying directions on a speeding train), but generally not interrupting the playing with an announcement every time – which seemed to work well for everyone in The Bateman Auditorium's near-capacity audience. ‘Streiflicht’, once started, was not to be alone in feeling to evoke an atmosphere that was haunted by the spirit of film noir. By now, one had already realized that these were going to be ensemble works², perhaps seeming sometimes fairly pre-composed (with performers quite attentive to their charts), and therefore not always with such an emphasis on an individual voice and / or individuality, but on timbres and textures.

A segue with (3) some phlegmatic piano material (‘If I had a heart’, whose chord-sequences and their progression might have resembled those of a spiritual ?) led to the first moment when, in (4) ‘Mistral’, Kempendorff ‘broke free’ on sax, and into further restless figurations. (5) Next came ‘Open up’, where the tenor runs were more free and more vigorous, and there was a long solo (still, with no applause) : again, one contrasted the approach with that of many a trio, quartet, etc., where a leader might pass over to a side player for that person to count in a composition or arrangement, but control would mainly rest in one person.

One concession to the usual was ‘a closer’, to leave the set finishing with a climax (though not in the very final bars) : (6) Bowie and Metheny’s ‘This is not America’, which only emerged, first as the melody-line from Muellbauer (on bass), after some tangential harmonizations³. Hülsmann had alluded to the fact that there might be political aspects to the relevance of the song’s title, and Kempendorff’s edgy tones became a very direct and hard-edged assertion, raucous and riotous at times, before the item slipped away into quiet again.

Second set :

This set began with (7) 'The art of failing' – a dreamy sea-scape (as #UCFF reckoned), and then a sort of stasis evoked by the piano. All of which was as a contrast, with Kempendorff to the fore, to the piece’s first tumbling over itself, and then becoming wacky (as well as seeming to resemble at least the nonchalance of Mancini's classic theme for The Pink Panther). The one small peril (except for a reviewer) of ‘two pieces for the price of one’ is that, at some indeterminate point, we had also started hearing (8) 'No gain' : it may not have been as late on as what sounded largely like an Étude for piano, with Shostakovian⁴ turns, but, in any event, we were to end this pair of numbers with tumbling, again, and the spirit of Mancini.

Hülsmann announced two more pieces, by Kempendorff, which were 'You don't have to win me over', and 'Einschub'⁴ : reduced initially to sax and drums, (9) this first piece sounded much more experimental and free, but then changed so that one became aware of another South- or Latin-American¹ influence. Kempendorff’s sax became driving and energetic, and then, at the end, resided in playing a repeated motif. Another repeated motif then opened (10) 'Einschub', with Hülsmann tremulous and obsessive with a tremolo, until turning to laying down a funky groove for the quartet to work with.

Next came (11) 'Wrong song', with a sort of inward type of tenor-tone (such as that with which he had opened the gig) - and as if scoring another unprojected noir (perhaps the stuff of suspicion and confusion ?) : after a build, in volume, and in the vigorous and intense nature of repeated sequences, it eventually culminated.

In the first set, when Köbberling found that he did not have, out front, the chart for the next number, and – pleading eyesight – declined the offer of Kempendorff’s, he went back stage to get his own : to inter-band banter about the regularity of such happenings… When Hülsmann told us that the final number in the set, (12) 'Kolibri 65', was a composition of Köbberling’s, he light-heartedly sought to object to her anecdote why it was named so (Kolibri is German for ‘hummingbird’) :

It had been after Köbberling’s mis-reading (ahem !) the label that gave the make and model of the espresso-machine at the recording-venue for the new album (which had, apparently, been a life-saver (caffeine ?) !). A name as good as any, since the world of music (and track-listings for recordings) probably accommodates less well the name ‘Untitled [and, maybe, a date]’, by which so many an art-work has deliberately been allowed to go, for more than a century ? [Maybe mistakenly, but one imagines nightmarish scenarios for curators, and how they can be sure of safely procuring the loan of the right Untitled by the time when their exhibitions have to be set up ! ?]

This was an up-beat number, with a high crotchet-rate, and also the very rare exception (which proved the rule) where a glance was shared and returned about where a solo might be going, and for how long, but, with a shrug, was accepted. An enjoyable Friday night of jazz ended with one encore (taking us to the blessed number of 13 items⁵), which was 'The Water', by Canadian singer / songwriter Leslie Feist - its treatment echoed the maybe languorous tones with which it had all begun – full circle ?


¹ It may not have been a samba-beat as such, but just to denote a dance rhythm of that kind : please see the comment for 'You don't have to win me over', in the second set (at 9, below).

² This was a gig with neither of the obligatory drum or bass solos, and where the respectful Cambridge audience did not applaud distinct solos on piano and tenor – although there were no run-on into the succeeding matter to preclude it, as is the case with those groups [one thinks of Phronesis last year at Cambridge International Jazz Festival 2018] who might wish to play two or three songs into one piece, and not have applause intervene.

³ Of the kind where, in a conventional gig, there might have been a hint at what came next, and such an emergence would be applauded – as if both to greet it and to demonstrate one’s recognition or approval ?

⁴ As we have 'Shavian', for matters that relate to GBS (or his œuvre), we do not see why not... (Whilst on word creation or conjuring, which – obeying a few rules – the German language famously allows with exceptional facility, we had had another example in the first set, with the compound noun ‘Streiflicht’, which is formed from a combination of ‘Licht’ (‘light’) plus ‘Streif’ (‘roaming’), as described by Hülsmann for 2 (above).)

⁵ A feature of gigs that those who do not try to note, in review-notes, the constituent elements of set-lists may not have had apt occasion to remark upon...

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Phronesis : Solos aren't really their thing

Reflections on hearing Phronesis in Cambridge (November 2018)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2018 (25 October to 1 November)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

24 November

Reflections on hearing Phronesis (@phronesismusic) at Cambridge International Jazz Festival 2018 – a gig at The Mumford Theatre, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge,
on Saturday 24 November 2018 at 7.30 p.m.

In the first set, the band gave us four numbers (or 'songs'), the third of which (Jasper Høiby, leader and bass-player, suggested) was from 2014 (and which had been heard played at The Stables in 2016), but they were all in such extended forms that one was almost aware of 'Four seasons in one day' (to quote Crowded House).

By which is meant, almost necessarily, that the instrumentalists are all 'playing the long game', painting 'a bigger picture', whereas the solo is most usually a period taken out of a shorter treatment of a song, which does not necessarily have or need an overarching feel in which such individualism, rather than the compact work of the trio, is going to feel out of place*.

They will no sooner have excitingly stepped up into an energetic, faster gear** than drop down or away, and the trick in the hearing is, when it happens, to enjoy the acceleration into that movement, but accept that it is part of a whole, in that Phronesis perform songs that are fundamentally quite modular, or moody – or modular***.

However, it is something more loose than that*, as if the structure of the song is modelling-clay that can be shaped by the interaction of the members of the trio as they go, by listening to each other, and also looking out for each other’s signals. The things that communicate themselves in this music at its height - which is already of an unbelievably and highly reliable special quality - are that everyone enjoys the others' playing, and a strong sense of freedom and of play, which can easily move between the very melodic and the strongly rhythmic.

We had tight and virtuosic drumming from Anton Eger (@AntonEger), as one will remember when the band were at Cambridge Jazz Festival in 2016, and saw the erect and observant Høiby (@jasperhoiby) centre stage, at times casting looks back and forth between Ivo Neame (@Ivoneame) on piano, and Eger. Harmonically, and in terms of the figurations and inflections that he can adeptly work with, Neame seems like a mirror to and for Eger, and Eger for Neame, with Høiby (using the bow more often than two years ago) in the role of using his playing and presence to mediate and direct, at the cross-roads of patterned communications, and gauging with Eger and Neame when to extend a section, when to move – which they always do so smoothly – to another passage, another facet, another feeling.

This is not jazz that is pretending to be clever. It just is clever, in the sense of being good and of quality, but does not even require of us to congratulate ourselves for being there to listen (or for listening to it). It takes us to places, maybe not real ones, in the band's sound-world, and, as the new album is called, perhaps tells us We Are All ?

With the three of them, deeply bowing at the front of the stage in The Mumford Theatre, who could doubt that they had given their all, and that we had truly been with them, in - and because of - the music !

End-notes :

* Another musical example, if in the world of what has been written out, might be where a chamber work is in movements, but - without a break - they are run together, such as Ravel's Sonata in A Minor (Op. Posth.) ?

** Colour coded by the principal lighting of the back, velveteen curtain, behind the band, as blue, red, and sub-marine green (the encore was purple, then red), the three songs of the second set all had this synergistic short moment, when the trio took off together, in tempo and intensity :

Perhaps we most immediately sense how alive their creativity is in this type of sound, but it is there to act as a contrast to much else that is going on in the song, such as when they are relishing a repetition or noodling with the possibilities of tossing a fragment around, yet almost without exception conveying the feeling of being both experimental and able to cope with the play-offs that they create, the interplay on which they thrive.

*** Which is not to say that they are blocks of material in, say, a Boulezian sense, where playing one determines whether one will or will not play another (e.g. his Piano Sonata No. 3), or, within a set of reels or jigs, where a group such as Lau might take a pre-arranged, short common rest - a little like the heart 'missing a bit, or a jump-cut in the cinema - and then directly juxtapose the tempo and rhythm of what went before with those of the new.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Phrenology with Phronesis (work in progress) : Watch yourself when the (cross-)rhythms kick in !

This is a review of a gig given by Phronesis at The Stables, Wavendon, MK

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

18 May

This is a review of a gig given by Phronesis at The Stables, Wavendon, Milton Keynes, on Wednesday 18 May 2016 at 8.00 p.m.

Personnel (in surname order) :

* Anton Eger (drums)

* Jasper Høiby (db)

* Ivo Neame (pf)

This posting has been prepared from review-notes, made consistently with having to take them within blank spaces on Saffron Screen’s (@Saffronscreen’s) beautifully printed May / June programme, since a night off / out turned into a busman’s holiday… (One’s own fault, for going to The Stables (@stablesmk) and not realizing that wanting to write a review was inevitable - and, also, that its proportions would balloon beyond 'a mere sketch' of a review, which was intended 'to give the flavour' !)

First set¹ :

1. Song For The Lost Nomads

2. 67,000 mph

3. A Silver Moon

4. OK Chorale

5. Stillness

By anyone’s standards, (1) ‘Song For The Lost Nomads’ was a pretty good opener : one might have been forgiven, at the very outset, for thinking that Jasper Høiby was just quietly touching the strings of his bass, as if to check, as string-players quietly do, that it was in tune (his is a standard double-bass with a pick-up²) :

Except that he was looking across to Anton Eger (on drums), with whom he had less need to tune than with Ivo Neame (piano)… [One is reminded of Ravi Shankar famously having said, at The Concert for Bangladesh, If you like our tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more.]

Rather than with apparent tuning of any kind, (2) ‘67,000 mph’ had, if not a militaristic drum solo to start, then, at least, one that one sounded to be militarily informed. As one was to realize, from hearing the three members of Phronesis, both of the other instruments have their percussive aspect, and they rejoice in using it (please see below). Not that, just as Høiby later tapped out some rhythms on his bass’ case, one cannot, say, use the opening and closing of the valves on a tenor sax as an effect, but bass-strings, even when bowed (one can bounce the bow), can more easily lend themselves to relatively pitch-neutral sounding (and one need only look to Igor Stravinsky, or Steve Reich, for piano-tones that are embedded within ensembles).

For, Phronesis clearly does, at times, have a principle in working out an approach to compositions that uses blocks, whether of sections within the number, or bars over which it will increase or abate intensity and or tempi, and thus using the capacity of all players for ‘patterning’ the material in this way is an important aspect of the whole.

In (3) A Silver Moon, however, they perhaps felt a little more self conscious, at first, when introducing more elements of free jazz ? Before one felt that they had ‘got into’ the item, the impression was given of being a little more at a remove, and which was heightened by the seeming classical allusions as the theme became exposed. Of course, in jazz that deserves the name, it is by being improvisatory, and needing to be open to running risks, that it is alive (one does not stoop to referring explicitly to a jazz-gig where members of an ensemble around the size of a quintet exclusively played off the page), and, appreciating as much, it was fine that this central part of the set had made a little less impact.

No matter, as pianist Ivo Neame opened (4) ‘OK Chorale’, and we were into another of Phronesis’ elongated treatments, originating with his patterned (or repetitive) figurations [if there is a magic in styling it ‘Ok’, apologies to Jasper H. for having put the title into house-style] : unlike with a jazz-standard (or if one already knew the band’s discography or its members’ pedigrees), one is not – as is sometimes the case (Brad Mehldau maybe, or, more obviously, Keith Jarrett with his long-standing Standards partners) – waiting for the melody to emerge from where it has been submerged (though there is some element of that to Phronesis, too), but, as one might with formal sonata-form writing, recognizing / knowing the material that we heard earlier when it recurs.

That is as may be, but there had been a touch of holding back, from the strength in and of the first two items, in the third, and now we knew that the trio was really into it. Not, of course, just because we had a rocking, head-banging drummer before us in Anton Eger, but rather that, as we listened, and as he interleaved mini drum-solos into the texture, seeing him, and his face and expression, confirmed to us that he was on a feed-back loop with us – however that works for performers, be it seeing nods, hearing gasps or sighs, or perhaps even a sway in the front row... (It is not, one knows, only at the end, when the length and amount of applause is longer for this item than for its predecessor, that both we, amongst our fellows, and the performers come to grasp whatever might be what Russell Hoban (@russellhobanorg) liked to call the limited-consensus reality [apologies, Russ, if you likewise did not hyphenate...].)

The set closed with (5), in which Phronesis felt most free of all, and we heard Jasper H. bow his bass, even sawing with it at times, and then some low picked notes, which sounded very deep, as well as next going extremely high.

As we proceeded, perhaps another classical allusion from Ivo N., some strummed bass, and then what looked like – from the front – Anton E., playing his drum-kit with a pair of dinner-knives : metallic, anyway, and bringing that kind of timbre to cymbals and stretched surfaces alike, but just as part of that bewildering ‘build of sound’ that is Phronesis at its best, with symphonic proportions summoned by three instrumentalists.

They were lucky that we let them off the stage to take a break, though they had clearly taken much pleasure in playing (and so any need for rest came after a refreshing kind of work-out) !

Second set¹ :

6. Urban Control

7. Phraternal

8. Behind Bars

9. Kite For Seamus

10. Rabat

11. Just 4 Now


More to come soon...

Encore :



¹ Set-lists by kind courtesy of Jasper Høiby of Phronesis (@phronesismusic). However, when the second set gets written up, there was clearly a segue that was wrongly interpreted (for reviewing purposes) as a change of mood / tempo of the sections within a number…

² But no ‘sock’, attached to the side, in which to stow the bow, which instead rested handily on the small stand by his right. One gathered that bowing the bass has come relatively recently - and also that its player does not play in a symphony orchestra (almost necessarily, the latter fact came before the former.)

(As agreed afterwards, such devices to carry the bow not only look like a holster (and how quickly does one need to whip out a bow ?), but they must also affect the sound and performance of the instrument.)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)