The Danish double bass player was out on the road with Phronesis – with English pianist Ivo Neame and Swedish drummer Anton Eger – playing dates around this country on the back of the band’s superb new album Life To Everything. They are at Birmingham Town Hall on Saturday 31 May. Jasper very kindly spared some time to answer a few jazzbreakfast questions.
Q How did Phronesis first come about and what drew you to the “piano trio” – or should that be “bass trio”! – format?
A The beginning of this band is somehow linked to my older sister losing her sight back in 2005. It happened suddenly and was extremely sad so I made the decision to move back to Denmark for a while and help my mom, sister and family out dealing with the whole thing.
As I’d spent pretty much my entire musical life up until that point in London I knew next to nothing about the Danish scene then apart from one guy, an awesome Swedish drummer named Anton Eger. I contacted Anton and asked if he was up for playing and actually left it up to him to find a third person.
I wanted to play in a small group first but I had no idea it would end up as a piano trio.
Some of my favorite jazz records at the time were piano trio ones like [Chick Corea’s] Now He Sings, Now He Sobs and a few other Bill Evans trio and Enrico Pieranunzi albums with Marc Johnson in the bass chair.
The piano trio is a magical format with a great blend of textures and sounds and the dynamic level is good for the double bass.
Q You have experimented with different performance settings for the band – specifically playing in the dark and now in the round. Have those experiences had an effect on the sound and direction of the band? If so, how do you think that effect manifests itself?
A Since the band is somehow connected to my sister, playing in the dark is obviously referring to her. It’s an attempt for me to find a moment to honour her as the beautiful inspiring person that she has been to me all my life but also a way to make people aware of what it might be like to live a life in darkness
I think it’s really special in this day and age, with tablets and smartphones all over the place, to create a forum for music where its all about the listening. The intensity the darkness creates enhances the musical experience and it brings a special energy to the whole thing.
Apart from anything else it’s challenging and fun for us.
Playing in the round is another way of bringing out a special energy, but this time its more about the band and the link there is between the three of us. The triangle set-up allows perfect visual communication and soundwise it’s intimate and as close as it can get.
Q It is clear from being in the audience at a Phronesis gig of the tremendous power and excitement that the trio can create. What does it feel like to be at the centre of that? Does Phronesis feel different to play in from the other bands you have played in? If so, where do you think that comes from?
A When everything works and we are all present in the moment it feels like something I can only describe as extremely joyous. Depending on where we are in the music it can feel like being in the most quiet but alive nature, in rush hour in the middle of the road in London, in a boxing match where you can’t get hurt physically or at a party with all your best friends, or even a mixture of all of the above!
For me personally it’s the most special band I play in because I get to play my own music and I get a lot of space to interact and to solo in. I have a traditional supportive bass player role, which I love, but I’m also allowed to lead if the music suggests it.
Q What do you most like about Ivo’s and Anton’s playing? What do they give you as a bassist?
A It’s very hard to sum that up in just a few sentences but I’ll try.
With Ivo I love his ability to develop a solo. Since I met him the first time many years ago it’s something that he has always had – he could pace and develop a solo with the maturity of someone with a lifetime of experience.
I love that his rhythm is so strong, that his phrases always are interesting and then he has a great sense of space too, the knowledge of when not to play.
Anton has a great dynamic sensibility that allows him to play everything from very quiet to explodingly loud and everything in between. He is a bass player’s dream because he feels at home in every time signature I’ve ever thrown at him and his time has a sense of drive to it that I identify with.
On top of all that he is always playing for the composition with attention to all the details and his playing always comes from a place of love and empathy, which gives me a feeling that I can go for anything I want at all times and always find my way back.
Q The band’s most recent recordings have been live ones. How vital is that “fourth corner” – the audience – in a Phronesis performance?
A I think the audience element plays a very big role to us all. The audience can take you out of your shell and remind you that what you do when playing music is really communicating and passing on some kind of narrative to the listener. It is up to you how you pace the story and it all happens in real time, so when an audience is best you can instantly feel how your story is being received. I still find it fascinating that you can get away with playing very complicated shapes and forms to people who aren’t necessarily used to listening to jazz, as long as you have something that people can latch on to.
Q Going on from there, what do you hope an audience will take away from a Phronesis gig?
A I hope that people will walk away from a Phronesis gig having participated in something that has been exciting, joyful, soulful and profound musically, and that it might open the door for many other types of jazz that share the same qualities, but might only become apparent after repeated listens.
I remember the first time I heard John Coltrane I didn’t get it, even though I could tell that it was profound and amazing in some way. When it finally dawned on me it was such an intense and almost religious experience that it was almost like a blow to the face, except it wasn’t painful of course.
Q I understand that you have recently relocated back to Denmark? How do the jazz scenes there and in the UK compare? Do you think the current UK scene is in a healthy state? Are there young bands/musicians you have heard that impress you – that you would recommend we look out for?
A As I’ve pretty much spent my entire ‘career’ away from Denmark it’s very hard for me to comment on the Danish jazz scene as such, but there’re definitely some great musicians there and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it all.
The UK scene strikes me as a very healthy one in terms of the music being created and there’re plenty of people to look out for I think.
I love Corrie Dick’s drumming and what he does in the various projects he is involved with. Drummer Dave Hamblett has got a great band too with some amazing musicians.
Apart from that it seems to me like the UK sometimes suffers from some kind of pop syndrome where it’s all about what’s next and new instead of appreciating what’s already there.
You have people like John Taylor, Julian Arguelles, Django Bates, Julian Joseph, Mark Lockheart, Liam Noble and Gene Calderazzo producing music of an incredibly high standard, not to mention some musicians and bands in the UK of my own generation, but it all only exists on an underground level.
I guess it’s the same old story of feeling like if only more people were exposed to this kind of music in their everyday lives, on TV, on radio and in the mainstream media – can you imagine!?
- Phronesis play in the round in Birmingham Town Hall on Saturday 31 May. Tickets for this Jazzlines concert are £15. For more information and to book your seats go here.
- Life To Everything is reviewed here.
Great interview – can’t wait to see them in Manchester tomorrow.