Hill Collective @ The Rose Hill, Brighton, UK, April 20, 2024 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Hill Collective

Hill Collective @ The Rose Hill, Brighton, UK, April 20, 2024,

May 15, 2024 Photography by Nick Roseblade Web Exclusive
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There are some gigs when you wonder how it will all work. This might be because the band uses a lot of visuals, Gorillaz for example, or they have props, Flaming Lips I’m looking at you here, or there is an obscene amount of musicians involved. The latter was on my mind as I walked to The Rose Hill for Hill Collective’s ‘Tonal Prophecy’ album launch gig. Hill Collective are an octet jazz group. Yup. You read that right, there’s eight of them. Pete Piskov - alto saxophone and flute, Joe Edwards on drums, Federico Micheli on bass, Luke Congdon on piano, Will Roberts on trombone, Phil Smith on trumpet, Jojo Circle on harp and Sudhi S Pooniyil on percussion. “Where were they all going to go?” I wondered. To call it a tight squeeze was a slight understatement, but they all got up there. But more on that in a moment…

The evening was broken into two sets. The first was the album Tonal Prophecy in full. Then after the break the Hill Collective would regroup and run through some improvisational exercises. As expected the band played the album in full, from start to finish. It showcased their proficient playing and Piskov’s ear for composition. While they played I thought to myself “This would be awesome at a kids birthday party”. That isn’t a slight, but there was something about the music that I could imagine a bunch of primary school kids getting into and dancing. The music is serious but doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is a problem with live jazz. It’s all very earnest. You can’t smile or you show the masses you somehow haven’t understood it. To show enjoyment is to miss the point, but that totally misses the point of jazz. Live, it’s about appreciating exceptional players creating huge swaths of music. The music can be played at a million miles a minute until their fingers are nubs. Or it can be subtle and gentle, but it’s always about the player’s dextrous ability. This is what the Hill Collective did on “Health and Virtue”, “Dogma Loves You” and “A Joyous Sound”. On paper the first set was why we were here, but it didn’t end up being the most enjoyable part of the show. Oh no… That happened after the break.

The second part of the set was the band improvising on a different themes. The first theme saw the horns playing off each other. Building tension through delightful motifs and melodies. When it reached a peak blasting, squawking and screeching until the mood was lowered and they started off again. Under this the band kept a steady rhythm. “It’s never completely free. There is always some structure. These things that aren’t completely free allow for incredible freedom.” The next song featured stops throughout the piece. Drummer Joe cued the stops. Then the group said “Keep breathing” and they were off again. The plan was to have about 10 stops. Joe’s drumming started off scattershot, then gradually moved into something more fluid. The same was true for the playing. As the stops carried on the group got braver with what they could, or couldn’t, get away with. As Piskov said, it wasn’t completely free, but it was bloody close. The next theme was a fun one. The band got in a huddle and picked a member of the audience and just played at them. As they scoured the audience for a member to focus on they hammed up surveying the horizon and looking people up and down. There was a genuine mood of “Will it be me?” Also the band are pretty funny people and this bit of physical theatre worked well. The band played a variation on “Happy Birthday” again and again. Sometimes in tune. Other times not. It didn’t seem to matter as the person in question seemed pretty chuffed. The next theme musical divination. An audience member wrote down a question for the band. They then played it back to him. Then they discussed what it might mean for him. The band started off playing a wonky version of the Countdown Theme while the question was being formulated. The music was some of the best they played all night. There was no real cohesion between the players. They weren’t pulling against each other, but they also weren’t pulling for each other either. However, somehow, they managed to create this wonderful cacophony that worked so well. It had a great bounce to it, but also had depth and emotion. The question was “What is the sound of the colour brown?” Yup, that’s pretty much what we heard. Next they played something that was part “Mario Theme” and a calypso beach band playing for a group of holiday makers on their final night away. As we walked out into the cold, dark, dank Brighton night it was a bit of culture shock, but we all had smiles on our faces and springs in our steps.

What makes the Hill Collective such a captivating experience is how joyous their music is. It’s incredibly complex at times, but it’s also very whimsical whilst not being shit. This is one of the hardest things in music to do. Especially jazz. Jazz has a reputation of being earnest, challenging and elitist. The Hill Collective strips this all away. They offer a night of dancing, laughing and sheer pleasure. It’s hard not to be entertained. The members of the band ooze charisma and charm. Their links were funny, a bit weird, staged but ultimately charming. If you are a jazz fan who likes things frivolous and ad hoc , the Hill Collective are for you. If you don’t really like jazz the Hill Collective are for you. If you just love having a great time the Hill Collective are for you and their tonal prophecies will be the soundtrack to your life.


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