Jasper Høiby Planet B
(The Vortex, Dalston. 11 November 2023. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Rob Mallows)
Packed to the rafters they were last night at this great little East London venue to see Denmark’s four-string master Jasper Høiby’s latest project, the Planet B trio album. A good sign for the rest of the Festival.
Festival goers were certainly generous in their frequent whoops of joys and rounds of applause for the aggressive soloing by each band member, but also library quiet for the pianissimo parts of the set, of which there were a good number.
The trio has been touring this album for a while – this reviewer saw its UK debut back February in Nine Elms – and there’s no doubt that they have the confidence from having done so to build on the core set of tunes with frequent right-angled improvisations, often started by a side-eye glance from Høiby towards drummer Marc Michel, who was in many ways the star of the night, his snare and toms crashing through this compact venue with glass-shattering intensity.
There’s a broad environmental and ’social justice’ theme to Planet B, and a number of tracks were interspersed with recorded audio of different activists making pleas for action on various topics (think of a Steve Reich Jazz Trio), the impact of which while I felt palled somewhat, not least when the iPad momentarily didn’t play ball.
Not yet a subscriber of our Wednesday Breakfast Headlines?
Join the mailing list for a weekly roundup of Jazz News.
Some of the tracks – none of which were announced – took time to come to the boil as Høiby bowed his bass, Michel scratched his ride cymbal and Josh Arcoleo on saxophone parped and breathed his way into the melody. But boy, once things got going, there was an exciting intensity to their free-flowing playing, particularly when Hoiby threw all manner of fantastically obtuse shapes on his fingerboard to drive each tune to a climax.
Arcoleo in particular – wearing his customary woolly hat and fulsome beard, and looking for all the world like a fisherman on the docks at Grimsby awaiting a two week stint on the herring grounds – threw caution to the wind on most of his solos, which poured out of his instrument with the intense fluidity of a flooded storm overflow, and these were certainly appreciated by the audience.
With rhythms and harmonic choices that presented both of love and outrage in equal measure, those hearing this album in its entirety would have clearly understood that it’s a passion project for Hoiby, forged out of the fire of the pandemic and his own exasperation with the state of the world.
A man behind me with a broad Geordie accent said at one point in response to a question from his companion: “Aye, I really liked bits of it.” And this reviewer is somewhat of the same opinion – there was certainly much to admire in the show, particularly on tracks when the energy was up; but the more langourous parts felt overlong, something not helped by the physical challenge from the hard metal chairs on which we were sitting.
But the thunderous response from the crowd suggests that the majority saw things differently and it was undoubtedly the case that band and audience both gave fully of themselves throughout the whole show, in a venue that’s warmly embraced Høiby over the years.
One damp squib: The Vortex has become the latest in a long line of venues switching to card payment only, thus making what should be a simple transaction at a crowded bar just that little bit more time consuming.
LINK: Vortex Jazz Club