Brit Jazz Fest: Led Bib and Phronesis at Ronnie Scott’s. London, August 2010.

Last night found me at Ronnie Scott’s for the second night of their Brit Jazz Fest, a double bill featuring Phronesis and Led Bib. A full – and young – house for these two, very different bands bodes well.

Phronesis are a piano trio, but the dominant voice seems to be Jaspar Holby’s bass. Perhaps taking their lead from other European trios like EST and the Tord Gustavsen trio, they have an energetic yet subtle presence – drummer Mark Guiliana combining the difficult trick of playing softly but with power, at times just swishing the air with his brushes.

Their set was interesting but ultimately their complex music failed to work its magic on me: their use of quirky rhythms and jerky time signatures made the music feel spiky and angular, and I had to concentrate to keep up.

Led Bib were a very different prospect. From the very start, they had me grinning broadly: there is something infectiously fun about their music. Drummer Mark Holub seems to do most of the writing, but they felt very much a unit. An unorthodox line-up – two alto saxophones plus a keyboards, bass and drums rhythm section – they manage to create incredibly funky improvised punk-jazz. Maybe with a touch of heavy metal thrown into the mix, too.

Electric bassist Liran Donin is central to their sound, putting down line after line of danceable bass. Toby McLaren’s keyboards added a lot of flavour – he was getting some great sounds from his treated electric piano, as well as playing the grand piano – whilst Holub’s drums were pushing the whole thing along with a mixture of rock and jazz beats. Over the top the two altoists – Chris Williams and Pete Grogan – were given the space to improvise, sometimes together, chasing each other up and down, and sometimes in vivid, cascading solos.

The whole is like a funkier, danceable version of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, without the really out-there free phases. Watching the quintet, it felt like it shouldn’t work, but actually, it works very, very well. I’m not sure if it would be so good in the comfort of one’s own home – it felt like it needed the live setting – but it works brilliantly live. Now I want to see them somewhere where the audience could dance – that’d be some gig!

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