It’s difficult to write about Jasper Høiby without mentioning Phronesis.
His bass-led trio, hailed by many as the successors to e.s.t.’s legacy, arguably re-energised the jazz trio format over the last decade, but on this new album Høiby is consciously looking beyond it.
In leading a new, larger ensemble for this record - Mark Lockheart on tenor sax, Laura Jurd on trumpet, Will Barry on piano and Corrie Dick on drums - Høiby has a richer mix of melodic colours to paint on his latest, rather charming musical canvas. Adding two melodic instruments to a trio format has energised his writing.
Though not quite in concept album territory, in the liner notes Høiby writes about some clear thematic threads in the writing. One is the current global environment challenges set out in Naomi Klein’s 2014 book “This changes everything”. The other is the death of his sister Janette. The global is also the personal and the humanitarian.
The cover photo of a pensive-looking Høiby on a jetty off the Danish coast (one assumes) portrays a flat, calm sea, and much of the mood and tempo of this album reflects that; it is consciously, he acknowledges, “less explosive” as his trio’s signature sound, but that’s very much a plus point rather than a reason to steer clear.
Opener Folk Song is languid and somewhat ‘folky’, a ticklish bass solo introducing a melody as fragile and spiky as a sea-horse from Mark Lockheart’s sax, counterpointed by Laura Jurd’s Werther’s-original-creamy-smooth flugelhorn.
This slow start is merely a breaker on the beach before wave heights increase on title track Fellow Creatures. Faster tempo’d, this is the first real impression one gets of the ensemble’s group playing and it’s feisty in parts, a strong melody giving Jurd in particular free reign to create some exciting aural images; think sea birds cresting waves and diving down into the troughs.
World of Contradictions contrast Barry's piano with the harsher brass sounds playing together and grows in intensity over the four minutes of the piece.
The world’s bees are having a tough time at the moment due to global viruses and Song for the Bees is a paean to our insect friends, a zig-zagging sound and what feels like a Caribbean rhythm from Høiby's bass create a tune which - especially through Corrie Dick’s light-touch stick work and Jurd’s chirruping trumpet - does bring to mind the chaotic beauty of the swarm and the hive.
Tangible, in contrast, is plant-like in its slow, sweeping sound, think fields of summer corn in the wind. The final track on the album, Plastic Island, is a very definite statement-of-intent, exclamation point of a song. Introduced by recorded studio laughter and banter, it starts off with ensemble playing before piano, trumpet and drums diverge from each other in musical intent, before coming back to a satisfactory conclusion over a very insistent bass riff.
If you’re a Phronesis fan already, you’ll enjoy this stronger, meatier sound. Høiby's characteristic bass sound is forefront of course, but the addition of the trumpet and sax sounds takes a little of the pressure of him, giving Høiby greater licence to create in the gaps in between the four other players.
Danish jazz has always drawn on the sea and the country’s folk music traditions and on this album your can almost feel the coastal air brushing your cheeks as you sit and listen. Rather nice all round.