SWIM COLLECTIVE: INSTANT HAPPINESS IMPROV JAZZ NIGHT | Hong Kong, Eaton HK, Terrible Baby

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How do you like your improv jazz? Completely mental? Then SWIM Collective is for you. It’s unusual for contemporary free jazz to feature a vocalist; three vocalists even moreso. But this is the ensemble’s strength and USP: a highly theatrical, human sound. An accompanying band of harp, keyboard, cello, percussion and electronics allows for a diverse range of expression.

Some of the vocal improvisation is straight out of the Toronto Blessings of the 1990s, a flurry of impassioned tongues, over dissonant spreads of expressionist harp and piano cluster-chords. Sometimes the singers merely coo gently; sometimes they are silent.

One of the most fascinating things about these through-composed, non-repeating, freely improvised pieces, is how the style slowly (sometimes imperceptibly) weaves in and out of free-rhythm effects and anchored, rhythmic, tonal grooves. The whole ensemble are really listening to each other and giving each other space, never trying to dominate the sound. Sometimes this leads to moments of complete silence.

Audience participation is highly encouraged. Everyone is given some tissue paper, and a lucky few are given some spoons. Being conducted in and out, at different volume levels, the sound of paper rustling and spoons clinking en masse is quite mesmerising, and the chance to be involved feels pretty special.

Follow SWIM Collective on Facebook.

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TJOE & NTBM | Hong Kong, Peel Fresco

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It’s hard to put into words how impressive and special this weekly jazz night is at this tiny live music venue near the party district around Central. Tjoe Man Cheung is a young jazz guitarist of exceptional skill, who, despite his unassuming demeanour, is clearly an excellent bandleader too. Moreover, he seems to know every dynamite musician in Hong Kong, so his “jam session” ends up being of a ridiculously high standard.

NTBM stands for “Not To Be Missed”, and this is apt. The actual “house band” line-up might be slightly different each Sunday evening, but whoever you get, you can be sure of a few pre-rehearsed tunes of outstanding quality, hovering around contemporary jazz-funk, to suit Tjoe’s guitar.

But the star attraction is the jam. Musician after musician, every audience member who joins the action is unique and phenomenal. There doesn’t appear to be any sheet music, even for the niche and complex numbers: just a quick murmur amongst themselves of the title and the key, and away they go, sounding tighter than a lot of pro bands. How is this possible? You may find a Japanese tap-dancer joins in with an improvised solo worthy of its own Broadway show, or an avant-garde vocalist improvises disquietingly around a classic, or a drummer changes tack and rocks out on a melodica (à la Jacob Collier).

Audience participation is very much encouraged. A couple of singers get up who are not first-rate, but relish the opportunity to perform. Little percussion instruments get passed around. It’s a steal at $100 HKD entry; although this entry fee is waived for latecomers who miss the main show. The bar is outrageously expensive (think $75 HKD for a Diet Coke) but still NTBM.

Check out all the live music at Peel Fresco online.

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ONE MAN BAND FESTIVAL | London, The Blues Kitchen

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Innovative, unique and utterly bizarre, One-Man Band Festival celebrates the supreme talents of those Dick Van Dyke-inspired musicians that take to the stage solo, but still deliver the full sounds of a multi-piece band: this is an unmissable week-long celebration of some of the very best in the game.

1. Wednesday 20th March: Dollar Bill + Hollowbelly in Shoreditch (Free)

Dollar Bill is a one-man band that seemingly achieves the impossible with the wide collection of sounds he delivers at once. It’s raw, stripped down, stompin’ and rockin’ blues with drums, a guitar, a harmonica and singing going on all at once.

Hollowbelly is one-man punk blues band, with a 3-string cigar box guitar in his hands, a blues harp at his mouth, a pre-war marching drum at his right foot and a 1930’s low boy at his left. Authentic, fast and furious stuff.

2. Thursday 21st March: Son of Dave + One Man Destruction Show in Brixton (£10.50)

Son of Dave is a maverick Bluesman, providing a one-man harmonica and beat-box experience. He performs catchy, original, world class shows all around the globe.

One Man Destruction Show has created his very own one man rock n’ roll garage n’ blues band.

3. Friday 22nd March: Bob Log + King Size Slim at Jazz Cafe, Camden (£15)

With Bob Log, Delta blues meets electro in a live show that can only be described as a man in a jumpsuit and full-face helmet rigged up with a telephone receiver barrelling around in a lifeboat while beating away on a hollow-body guitar.

King Size Slim’s music is rhythm-led, heavy on the bass and rootsy in the melody. A powerful performer and a must-see on the blues circuit.

4. Tuesday 26th March: Ian Siegal + Big Joe Louis in Brixton (£15)

Ian Siegal presents songs from his latest album All The Rage. Titled Best Male Vocalist and Best Acoustic Artist in the UK Blues Awards 2018, Ian Siegal is a must-see musician for 2019. Classic Rock tags Siegal “a national treasure” and MOJO magazine ranks him “the cleverest writer and most magnetic blues performer in the UK”.

Big Joe Louis is a powerful force on the modern UK blues scene, whose style and authenticity are unparalleled on this side of the Atlantic.

5. Thursday 28th March: Lewis Floyd Henry + Hip Bone Slim in Camden (£4)

Lewis Floyd Henry busks daily on Brick Lane, and has clocked up millions of views on YouTube. A one-man, multi-genre, traveling sonic medicine show, it’s Jimmy Hendrix one moment and Biggie Smalls the next.

Hipbone Slim (aka Sir Bald) plays stompin’ rhythm and blues on guitar, harmonica, foot drums, and maracas, in a very eclectic set.

Book online for these amazing one-man band shows.

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FESTIVAL: International de Jazz de Montréal

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Montreal is into jazz. How much? Well, the festival features 600 concerts, 400 activities and events and 3000 musicians from 30 countries over the course of 10 days. So yeah, loads of jazz. Founded in 1979 with the intention of bringing the best musicians on the planet to the city and its visitors, the 2017 programme delivers on this mission statement as well as giving stage time to artists that are headed in that direction.

Browsing the full schedule (which you can do here) it’s wonderful to see an event that has everything from the ‘indisputable legends, beg-borrow-steal a ticket’ category through to ‘oh yeah, I’ve heard they’re kinda cool and I’ve got a free afternoon’ gigs. To look forward to just some of this enticing mix, it’s great to see Michael League and Shabaka Hutchings each touring their new projects — Bokanté and Shabaka & the Ancestors respectively. For those who think that a Nobel Prize is exactly what you should look for in a musician, the freshly decorated Bob Dylan is in town. Speaking of decoration, the stage of Maison symphonique de Montréal will be heaving with talent in a double-bill that features Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Scofield, John Medeski, Charles Lloyd, Gerald Clayton, Reuben Rogers, and Eric Harland. What?? Amazing.

For the young guns, the line-up sparkles with rising stars like Cory Henry, Jacob Collier, Anderson .Paak, Too Many Zooz and many more. For fans of the hang (as an instrument as well as a late night dram) it’s exciting to see the return of Portico Quartet, part of a British contingent that include GoGo Penguin and the burningly ear-catching Binker & Moses.

Think that sounds like a lot? We’ve barely scratched the surface and if the staged gigs seem too formal, 130 non-stop street artists are on a mission to make the city swing. We can’t wait.

Montreal International Jazz Festival runs from 28 June – 8 July and you can explore the full programme here.

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RETURN: The Jazz Cafe

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Jazz Cafe 1500x500

Q. What do Gil Scott Heron, Herbie Hancock, Mulatua, Astake, Lee Scratch Perry, D’Angelo, Lana Del Ray, Bobby Womack and Amy Winehouse all have in common?

A. They’ve all performed at Camden’s Jazz Cafe, which is reopening after a £3million renovation project.

By the looks of the announced line-up, it’s not just the 25-years-old venue that’s had a face-lift. The programme packs a punch, with established quality lining up alongside emerging sounds on the scene. For example, you can get down there to see the likes of Dave Harrington or Portico. How about Mammal Hands with a smattering of soul and hip hop options to broaden the palate? It’s tasty.

With a vibey new look and feel, here’s to London regaining a venue equal to its history and famous name.

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