Much of the music Phronesis has made since their 2005 debut has had a dark feel. So We Are All presents an interesting challenge for double bassist Jasper Høiby, pianist Ivo Neame and drummer Anton Eger. The recording’s theme — how working together can preserve and enhance our planet in every sense of the word — carries an upbeat message. However, the trio doesn’t change its sound to reflect a stereotypical conception of positivity, but instead tackles the topic with its usual brand of intellectual rigor. The results are multi-faceted and fascinating.
“Matrix for D.A.” exemplifies the approach of this very European group (Høiby and Eger are Scandinavian, while Neame hails from the U.K.). The title initials refer to Douglas Adams, zany author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But rather than trying to replicate Adams’ sense of humor, the musicians focus on finding an aural corollary for his quirky cosmology. Segments move in ways that seem completely random thanks to Neame’s shifts between delicacy and unconventionality, Høiby’s unexpected pivots and Eger’s intermittent decision to skitter around the rims of his drum set rather than consistently pounding on the skins. Yet somehow, the composition holds together, demonstrating that unity doesn’t necessarily mean marching in lockstep.
Elsewhere, “One for Us” finds Høiby turning his instrument into a mini-orchestra to create an emotional dreamscape. “The Edge” gains resonance through its transition from a mournful introduction to a vigorous celebration powered by Neame’s lyrical runs. “Breathless” uses a roomy arrangement that shoves aside turmoil in favor of beauty. And the Eger-penned “The Tree Did Not Die” finds the drummer tapping into the most thrilling of rhythms prior to a denouement that concludes the album on an elegiac note. No, it’s not a simple, triumphant ending. Hard-won is more like it — and also deeply satisfying.— Michael Roberts