Live reviews

Jasper Høiby Planet B at the Purcell Room (2022 EFG LJF)

Jasper Høiby Planet B

(Purcell Room, EFG London Jazz Festival, 13 November 2022. Live Review by Patrick Hadfield)

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Jasper Høiby’s Planet B. Photo credit Emil Holba / Serious

A foggy (Sun)day in London town might have felt like an unlikely time to engage with uncompromising, radical music, but that’s when Jasper Høiby was playing, and he’d sold out, so evidently people were eager to see him.

Rescheduled due to a bout of covid during last year’s festival, Høiby seemed glad to be back, and grateful for the delayed opportunity to play music from his latest album, What It Means to Be Human.

Høiby has an agenda. He’s angry at the state of the world and the failure of the world’s leaders to address it. And as COP27 fades into insignificance, one can’t help agreeing with him.

This anger seems to drive his creativity. Planet B, the trio he formed with saxophonist Josh Arcoleo and drummer Marc Michel, are deeply impassioned. Together they make powerful music with an undeniably political message. The music could exist without the politics, but Høiby and his colleagues would probably not feel the need to create it. They use samples, triggered by Høiby, to reinforce the message: what would a different world look like? How could we make this new world? As one sample stated, “If we could truly collaborate there would be enough to go around.” Another, “reimagine everything”.

The set opened with Høiby’s muscular bass playing, so commanding that one wonders at the need for other musicians. But that’s before they start playing: both Arcoleo and Michel bring much to the performance. They were joined on two numbers by London-based rapper Tendayi, who slipped into the trio’s style seamlessly. 

Høiby’s bass playing is fluid and full of motion; he creates a compelling groove out of nothing. Had this been a standing gig, the audience might have been dancing. As it was, seated in the usually sedate Purcell Room, the place felt like it was full of movement: it was impossible to sit still as the bass worked its magic.

Their pieces captured different moods. One tune had a distinct eastern feel, the sax and bass building a repetitive raga-like feel as Michel responded by playing his drums with his hands. Another had fast insistent beats akin to drum’n’bass: Michel’s playing seeming very precise but showing a sense of freedom, too.

At times Arcoleo screamed down his saxophone; at others his playing was aggressive and confrontational. For the most part, though, the music was considered and understated, possibly the more powerful for this. Michel’s playing seemed particularly sensitive.

Both Høiby and Arcoleo used loops and effects. Arcoleo generated a choir of saxophones. Høiby played a series of bowed phrases over which he then improvised.

Tendayi rapped about isolation and change, and the interference of technology on our personal connections. His rhyming was witty, his message heartfelt.

Planet B encored with a fast, upbeat number, Høiby’s bass setting up a strong, swinging groove. As if to send us back into an unseasonably warm November evening and emphasise our need to stay positive and embrace the need to change.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield

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