Bassist Jasper Høiby and his trio Phronesis have been deservedly creating a stir on the UK’s jazz scene. With his third album Alive out now, Høiby talks to Neil McKim
There was a change of personnel for the album Alive. Why was that?
The group [usually] consists of Ivo Neame on piano, Anton Eger on drums and me. The plan was to do a live album after the two studio albums to document playing live with this group. I had booked up The Forge and everything was planned but then Anton ended up not being able to do it for some other musical reason – so I was back to the drawing board. I knew drummer Mark Guiliana a bit and I thought ‘Why not ask him?’ and he agreed. Whenever I hear Alive I hear Mark’s playing. I’m equally excited about playing with Anton but with Mark it’s a different thing: when I listen to this album it’s really fresh for me; it does things to both Ivo and me because we’re being challenged in a different way.
How did you come up with the intricate bass part on ‘Abraham’s New Groove’?
I was just improvising, practising some stuff and it just came out. It’s definitely made for a bass groove – it’s hardly playable on the piano – which makes me laugh when I hear a pianist trying it. It’s fun, it’s a bass thing – it falls really naturally to play on the double bass. It sounds like a 1,000 notes but it sounds harder than it is.
Do you have a highlight on the album?
I don’t mean to sound like I just love myself but I’m really happy with a lot of the album! I’m particularly pleased with ‘Happy Notes’. It starts with this beautiful floaty improvised bit of Ivo’s which he made up on the spot and then it sneaks into a joyful groove and has a good shape, which is partly Mark’s fault because he’s getting a lot of freedom in that tune. And then it just creeps up slowly – I really like the shape of that.
As a bassist leading a band, do you look back to Charles Mingus for inspiration?
Man, I’m looking to everyone for inspiration all the time. I’ve never been a dedicated Mingus fan but obviously you’ve got to absolutely love and appreciate the things he’s done. There’s a lot of bass players who have written great music and Mingus is one. And for me Avishai Cohen is another, and Jaco Pastorius – the list is long.
Why did you record on Dave Stapleton’s Edition record label?
I’ve recorded a few albums on Edition, so I know Dave Stapleton and he’s a very friendly guy. I’d done albums myself, released on Loop Collective, and it’s been a great experience but it’s also been expensive. I wanted to be able to share the efforts with someone who was really enthusiastic about the music. There’s not that many jazz labels in the UK and Dave is trying to make a difference – not just to the jazz crowd, but he’s trying to increase the audience for this kind of music.
Do you prefer an audience to be standing or sitting?
Apart from playing the Loop Collective Festival at The Vortex, where it was so rammed people had to stand up, we play mostly sit-down gigs and I don’t mind if people sit or stand. You can dance to this music but often the people who dance are off their faces, so it’s not the kind of thing where you can go: ‘Oh that’s natural’. Instead you go: ‘OK, that person is semi-crazy’ – but they’re enjoying the music too which is great.
What got you into jazz in the first place?
The double bass got me into jazz. I started playing electric bass when I was 15 and when I was about 18 I got slowly drawn into this whole world and started listening to more challenging music. Someone played Weather Report to me and I was like ‘Wow, this is amazing!’ So that’s what got me into jazz and I started listening to more and more.
Interview by Neil McKim
Audio clip: Phronesis: 'French'
YouTube: Phronesis: 'Abraham's New Groove'