Jasper Høiby: Phronesis and a Walk in the Dark
Phronesis played three concerts in 2011 under the title of Pitch Black: concerts played in regular music venues but without lighting. "Pitch Black was the result of bouncing ideas back and forth with my manager, Sue Edwards. We were talking about interesting things we might do in a live setting. Sue came up with the idea of performing in the dark. I thought she'd lost it! But I thought about it and I warmed to the idea. It seemed like a great way to involve people with visual problems like my sister's and also to acknowledge her, not to just let Green Delay be the album about her. We are very close; she means a great deal to me."
The first Pitch Black performance brought mixed responses from the band's members. "We tried it. I was absolutely buzzing, but I remember Ivo being really worried and saying, 'Please can we not do that again.' We've performed like that three times now, and it's been more and more fun every time. There are no plans to perform like that again at the moment, but I'm sure we'll find a way to do it in the future."
It seems rather odd that a band with such visual impact on stage would choose to perform in the dark, but Høiby argues strongly that it's a way of re-emphasizing the sound of the band. "That was partly what appealed to me about the idea. We were making a statement, in a way. We were declaring that we're not just this flash band; it's not just about the visuals. In the end, that's just icing on the cake, in my opinion. Phronesis has always been about the music. So we made that statement."
Critics and reviewers were very positive about the Pitch Black concept. Høiby is also pleased with the response from audience members. "It was incredibly good. Sometimes I hear from people whose relatives or friends have sight problems, who tell me how incredible they found the experience. The funny thing is that, while playing, I seem to have had similar experiences to people in the audience. That might sound weird, but it makes it feel more like a genuinely shared experience."
Shared experience it might be, but it's by no means a normal concert. Playing in the dark is a physically taxing activity, and set lengths need some adjustment. "It's not a normal-length performance. In Bremen we did two sets, but at Brecon Jazz Festival we did one hour, and in the Purcell Room [part of London's South Bank complex] we did 50 to 55 minutes. Of course, you don't want people to sit in the dark for too long, even though time seems to go really fast. It's also really liberating to play in the dark because you don't have to worry about what you look like. If anyone could see me in the middle of a Pitch Black performance, they'd probably be a little bit scared." Høiby laughs at the thought before concluding that "It's great not to have to think about it."
Like most other jazz musicians, Høiby continues to play in a bewildering array of bands, including Compassionate Dictatorship, Kairos 4tet and Richard Fairhurst's Triptych. It's a necessity in order to earn a living, and it's also part of what drives many musicians: a love of exploration and innovation. But it makes leading a band even more problematic. "It's extremely difficult. Obviously, the bands aren't working at the same time, but there's a lot of organization that goes on. Even then it's very, very hard. You just try to do your best."
There's a positive aspect to this constant need for organization and coordination: its reflection of the energy and activity in the jazz scene in Britain and the rest of Europe. Høiby certainly views things with optimism. "I think it's a very healthy scene, even though the economic situation seems extremely scary, and money is tight, and maybe people aren't going out so much. Even with that, there's an incredibly healthy scene in the U.K. and Europe. People are fighting really hard for jazz, and I think it's paying off."
Phronesis, Walking Dark (Edition Records, 2012)
Kairos 4tet, Statement Of Intent (Edition Records, 2011)
Richard Fairhurst's Triptych, Amusia (Babel, 2010)
Phronesis, Alive (Edition Records, 2010)
Compassionate Dictatorship, Cash Cows (FMR Records, 2010)
Mark Lockheart, In Deep (Edition Records, 2009)
Ivo Neame, Caught In The Light Of Day (Edition Records, 2009)
Phronesis, Green Delay (Loop Records, 2009)
Jim Hart's Gemini, Narrada (Loop Records, 2009)
Phronesis, Organic Warfare (Loop Records, 2007)