REVIEW Jasper Høiby's Qualia - premiere at the Vortex

Laura Jurd and Jasper Høiby'. Photo credit: Steven Cropper / Transient Life

Jasper Høiby's Qualia
Vortex, 9th January 2016. Second night of two premiere gigs. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

It's not often that spam mail is welcome, let alone read. However, knowingly apologetic emails from Danish super-bassist Jasper Høiby that promise exciting new musical projects are an exception. This was the route by which Høiby's new London-based group Qualia sneakily slipped under the radar and into our inboxes. They are not going to slip out of the minds as easily,

The set opened a little like a tuning session, with shimmering percussion and horns wrestling over lines. Musical pairings are tested out: a bowed double bass in unison with a tenor here, clear keys and solid trumpet tunes there. Fellow Creatures follows a more familiar bass-led groove, with a melancholy horn approach seeing Laura Jurd's trumpet playing off Mark Lockheart's tenor sax, drifting in and out of unison before embarking on a pressure cooker of shared improvisation ratcheting off one another. The two seem to relish playing together, in World of Contradiction almost in contrapuntal formality, in Song for the Beeswith a more curated chaos.

With a quintet at his disposal rather than the three in his usual Phronesis format, Høiby's Qualia compositions are toned down in intensity and frenetic energy compared to some of his previous work. Little Song for Mankind saw significant time and space given to each musical thought, and fewer surprises or sudden changes of direction mid piece. While still underpinned by busy double bass and fantastic tireless percussion where previously musical texture was generated in trademark sharp variations in dynamics and tempo, here instead it came from a fluctuating power dynamic between the rhythm section and the trumpet or tenor.

The band's ease playing together is explainable enough. All hewn from the current London jazz scene these are musicians who have all crossed paths before, notably Lockheart and Høiby in Malija, Dick and Jurd in both Blue-Eyed Hawk and Jurd's quartet now known as Dinosaur. Together they finished the set with a playful upbeat piece fusing the infectious grooves of a Phronesis rhythm section with the off-kilter hooks of Polar Bear

In philosophy, “Qualia” are perceived subjective moments of experience: instances interpreted differently by each individual in a crowd. In putting together this Qualia set Høiby has left us scope to interpret the group in many different ways. While there may have always been five people on stage, the evening's most memorable moments came when the music zoned in on two or three: a beautifully rich Will Barry piano solo with the back line; a deep sombre duet between sax and bass.

There was a strong homecoming atmosphere in the Vortex, with Høiby's stage patter full of endearing light political commentary and easy banter with any target available (current band members, the audience, former band members, the Vortex's Ollie Weindling, himself). Even on a wet January evening the Dalston Culture House was packed and buzzing. Whether people had responded to Høiby's email Bat-signal or not is another matter, but with this only Qualia's second and final scheduled gig before they hot-foot it to Copenhagen for some studio time, based on this performance I'm sure they'll have equally excitable crowd to play to on their return.

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