Jasper Høiby unveils Qualia at The Vortex

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Bassist and bandleader Jasper Høiby wears a well-earned smile. It’s standing room only at The Vortex as his quintet files its way through the crowd; five familiar faces of the London jazz scene about to light this place up. With barely a whisker of info available online about his new band Qualia, the sizeable crowd is surely thanks to the pedigree of Høiby’s other projects (frontman of Phronesis, no less) and his astonishing line-up: Mark Lockheart on saxes, his protégé Laura Jurd on trumpet, plus Will Barry and Corrie Dick on piano and drums respectively.

Høiby’s been here before. Ever since the Dane moved to London in 2005, The Vortex has held a special place in his calendar. Phronesis and Arthurs/Høiby/Richie both premiered here in their infancy and now Qualia joins the list. For this distinctly ‘London’ outfit, it must almost feel like home.

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The band opens with ‘Folksong’ which builds a mantra-like refrain, its gentle groove, punctuated by joyful major chords, breaking into an uplifting canter upon the entry of Jurd’s effortlessly soft tone. This benign beginning betrays some of the more angular soundscapes to come, but one pattern remains constant throughout. Qualia are clearly masters of evolving melody, growing them from nothing before fading the tune back into oblivion.

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The setlist encompassed a number of inventive orientations showcasing the compositional dynamism of Høiby and his crack team. ‘Just For Now’ casts off without piano or drums to delve into a wonky rhythm and harmonies recalling the work of Vaughan Williams. ‘Song For The Bees’, for which the band produced a fluffy stuffed bumble bee onstage (to the mock annoyance of Høiby), began with a humorous swarm of buzzing brass notes before filtering into a deranged duet between the leader's bass and Lockheart’s twisting saxophone.

Qualia is a philosophical term used to describes instances of individual experience. As Høiby explained, “I once studied philosophy and the concept stuck in my mind. I liked the sound of it.” We do too.

 – Tommie Black-Roff

– Photos by Roger Thomas