Live reviews

Sun-Mi Hong Quintet + Ant Law & Alex Hitchcock at Purcell Room (2022 EFG LJF)

Sun-Mi Hong Quintet + Ant Law & Alex Hitchcock

(Purcell Room. 17 November 2022. Live review by Peter Slavid)

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Sun Mi-Hong (right). Photo by Ikin Yum/ Korean Cultural Centre.

There’s probably a bad joke somewhere that starts “two Koreans, two Italians and a Scot walk into a bar” but in this case there’s no joke, and no bar, it just describes the multinational, Amsterdam based quintet at the centre of this concert.

The concert was a joint project between the London Jazz Festival and the London Festival of Korean music, and a high percentage of the audience were clearly there for the Korean element provided by the night’s headliner, drummer Sun-Mi Hong.

The evening started with a short set of intricate chamber jazz from the duo of Alex Hitchcock (sax) and Ant Law (guitar).  They were then joined by Hong (who also appears on their recent album) with Law switching to 8-string bass for two, more muscular numbers, propelled by Hong’s drumming.

After the interval Hong’s quintet appeared.  She plays a fairly simple drum kit with only one large Korean drum which was unused until the encore, and a small gong attached to the snare drum (until it fell off). Reminiscent of Han Bennink she uses every part of the kit including stands and sides. Her drumming flutters in constant movement and then explodes into ferocious bombs prodding the soloists forward.

Hong’s music, much of it from her just released album “Third Page Resonance” clearly owes a lot to the jazz of her adopted home of the Netherlands. It’s dark and edgy avant-garde, with some lyrical passages and some free sections. The rhythms shift and slide, and break up before reforming. There are eerie dissonant passages between Nicolo Ricci‘s tenor and Alistair Payne‘s trumpet. 

The poignant “Letter with no words”, written to her father, starts with a delicate duet between Chaerin Im on piano and Alessandro Fangaro on bowed bass, before being joined by the trumpet. Ricci’s highlight comes with a splendid solo on the tune “Blind”. Both these tunes come from the new album.

The encore saw an example of Hong’s background in Korean drumming as she used large wooden batons to beat out a ferocious rhythmic pattern on the Korean drum over a restrained riff from the band.

The K-Music festival 2022 was designed, in part, to show the breadth of Korean music beyond K-Pop, and this concert certainly delivered on that.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on and various internet stations 

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