When Jasper Hoiby’s sister, Jeanette, suddenly lost her sight he left his burgeoning London music career to help his mother nurse her in Copenhagen. He could not know that this would lead to the formation of a band that would not only change his life, but also shake up the sound of jazz.
That band is Phronesis, formed while Hoiby was in Copenhagen. “I knew I had to do something while I was there,” he recalls on the telephone from London, “because otherwise I would probably go insane.”
The stress was immense, as Jeanette was already mentally handicapped. “We couldn’t explain what was happening,” says Hoiby. “So there was lot more pressure on my mum than there normally is, which is a lot. So I just thought, ‘Okay, I can’t just run around in London and try and make my dream come true, while these guys are having such a hard time. I have to move back for a little bit.’”
The first Phronesis album, 2005’s Green Delay, was dedicated to Jeanette. “She’s my inspiration in life,” Hoiby says. “She’s also a dialysis patient, so she’s one of these people who’s just had everything coming at her.”
Subsequently Hoiby returned to London and, with Anton Eger (drums) and Ivo Neame (piano), has substantially reinvented the rhythmic and textural language of the conventional piano/bass/drums trio.
Such musical sophistication was improbable when Hoiby was a child. “I played terrible violin when I was a kid,” he says with a laugh. “I couldn’t stand it… When I was about 14 I’d been into hip hop for a number of years and I met a friend who was a bass player. He came into my room and immediately started playing all these grooves that I was listening to. I was totally blown away by that. I just remember thinking that was so cool. How could he just hear it for five seconds and then play?… So he really turned me on to the bass.”
At 18 Hoiby attended a three-month music course, which confirmed he had found his passion. He practiced obsessively, and at 23 applied to London’s Royal Academy of Music, keen to escape his Copenhagen circle for somewhere where he could devote himself to music.
The audition came a year sooner than expected, however. The Academy only took one jazz bassist per year, and at the last minute a student who had been accepted opted out. Hoiby had one week to prepare.
“That was probably the most nerve-racking experience I’ve ever had,” he says. “I remember doing a sight-reading test in front of the head of jazz. He must have taken me on my happy face and my enthusiasm, because it didn’t go too well. The playing part was fine, but that test – ooh! – it was bad!”
Having been accepted Hoiby finally swapped from electric to double bass, his instrument ever since, at the ripe age of 23.
Meanwhile Phronesis’s projects continue to be inspired by Jeanette. They performed a series of concerts called Pitch Black with absolutely no lighting, and their acclaimed current album is entitled Walking Dark. (See review: http://www.johnshand.com.au/phronesis-cd/)