The London Jazz Festival ran from 11-20 November this year. Kath and I went to a couple of events; I would have liked to go to more but already had an unusual number of concerts lined up in November. The first was Chicago x London at the Barbican on the 12th. A coming together of artists from those two cities, mainly Chicago. Turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag, the highlight being the solo guitar of Jeff Parker, who was first on. He’s got an enjoyable album from 2021 called Forfolks. On the night a highlight was his interpretation of Frank Ocean’s Super Rich Kids. Ben LaMar Gay and band were interesting, avant-garde, percussive with some afro-beats. Wouldn’t mind hearing more. Angel Bat Dawid was spiritual, but musically it was a bit of a mess, and Theon Cross on tuba didn’t get much of a look-in. And, disappointingly, London’s main representative, Alabaster Deplume, got off to a terrible start with a ridiculous hippyish rant which rather coloured the rest of the show for me. He had a large band too, which never really got to contribute much. Shame, as I’d been looking forward to seeing him after hearing a few of his tunes on 6 Music. Another time maybe – he’s a regular at the festivals.
The second event I chose fairly randomly from the programme. The same night at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, in the same part of the Southbank as the Purcell, there was an interesting looking tribute to Joni Mitchell. But the description of Son Mi Hong’s background and music in the programme looked intriguing, and it had the virtue of being much cheaper! Son Mi Hong is from South Korea, but has been based in the Netherlands for the last ten years or so. She plays the drums. She’s been working with the same band members for a while: Alistair Payne on trumpet, Alessandro Fongaro on bass, Nicolo Ricci on tenor sax, and fellow Korean Chaerin Im on piano. It turned out she had a new CD due for release the day after the concert, called Third Page; Resonance. It was available on the night, and after a stunning show I had to buy it!
The support act was a duo, Ant Law on guitar and Alex Hitchcock on saxophone. They only had half an hour, but they made very good use of it. I really liked their sound, and the interplay between the two instruments. I loved Ant Law’s guitar playing: subtle, expressive and inventive. They played four pieces, and Sun Mi Hong joined them on drums for the last two. I bought their 2022 CD after the show too. It’s called Same Moon in the Same World, and it makes for great, relaxed listening. There’s a full band on the album, and it reminded me a little of an 80s duo I saw a few times called Morrissey Mullen.
Sun Mi Hong’s show was a revelation. The band were superb, so together. Lots of virtuosity, but always complementing each other. The interaction of the trumpet and sax was tremendous. Chaerin Im’s piano was understated, but so important to the groove. The mostly double bass sound accentuated that groove, while Sun Mi Hong’s drumming was sensational. There was no part of her kit that didn’t get brought into play at some point. Such variety: sometimes quietly underpinning a solo from one of her colleagues, other times driving through the beat with some complex rhythms. A fascinating visual as well as aural experience.
The music was pretty adventurous – this was not jazz easy listening. But there was one song of beautiful, affecting simplicity. It was called Letter With No Words and Sun Mi Hong introduced it with a story about her relationship with her father. Back in Korea he never said much to her, rather disapproved of her unconventionality. But then he started writing letters to her, expressing his love. In the Netherlands during the pandemic, she didn’t see her family for two-and-a-half years. That yearning to see them and reply to her father led to this tune, the letter without words. It featured a beautiful, lengthy trumpet solo by Alistair Payne at the beginning, which reminded me of Chet Baker’s trumpet in Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding. I found it very moving – the sound and the sentiment.
I took a bit of a punt on this show, but it certainly paid off. It was a wonderful night of music, and I’ll definitely be looking out for future performances of both Sun Mi Hong and her band, and Ant Law and Alex Hitchcock. I’d recommend both the albums I mentioned earlier – and, indeed, Sun Mi Hong’s second album, which I also bought on the night. It’s called Second Page: A Self-Strewn Portrait. I haven’t been able to find the first page on Spotify, but there must be one!
Finally, I should note that Sun Mi Hong’s show was also part of the K-Music Festival, London’s Festival of Korean Music. This is in its ninth year and is organised by the Korean Cultural Centre UK. Sun Mi Hong was effusive in her praise for the support she and her band had received from them. I’d not been aware of the festival before, but it’s one to look out for next year.
Blimey, John. I can barely keep up with you.
To start with Sun Mi Hong, she (and the band) sounds great, and I’d like to catch them one day. I’ll keep an eye out for further gigs.
As for the first gig, what does Alabaster Deplume do, musically? And what is a hippyish rant?! That does sound a little oxymoronic. But it’s a shame that he crocked his own set in the process.
Last but not least, I love the bathos of your line “Theon Cross on tuba didn’t get much of a look-in.” Poor Theon!
“Rant” may not be the best word. Stream of consciousness? Lots of nonsense about loving us, loving our energy (sitting in our comfy seats before he’d started), loving himself and his band, etc, etc. can’t really remember other than it was an irritating waste of time. And he was also complaining about not having enough time to play! As for Theon Cross, he plays with Sons of Kemet amongst others and made a highly regarded solo album called “Intra-I” in 2021. A star of the new jazz scene in the UK.