Friday, 17 July 2015

Another musical treat

Jean-Sebastien Héry, the multi-talented French musician and composer who visited us for our end-of-year 'Arts Festival' week a little while ago, has played in many different musical styles over the years. One of his most successful ventures came when he suddenly rediscovered his teenage fascination with rock music a few years ago, and got together with a couple of Beijing friends, Dutch bassist Maikel and Chinese drummer Mao Mao, to found AIS (their full name was The Amazing Insurance Salesmen [he went through a phase of calling all of his many musical collaborations The Amazing Something-or-other... a bit of a private joke!!], but as the group became successful, fans soon started to referring to it by the initials only).

As always with Jean-Sebastien, the music drew on a range of different influences: blues, psychedelia, folk, and even a little bit of jazz and classical music, as well as classic rock. It became a signature feature of AIS gigs that they would close their set with an extended free-form improvisation on Caravan, a Central Asian tinged instrumental jazz standard composed by the great Duke Ellington. This, I think, is one of their earlier live renditions of the tune, and is quite restrained by the standards that later evolved: it lasts barely 8 minutes, whereas on occasion, when they were feeling particularly exuberant, they were known to spin it out to 15 or 20 minutes!! (This was filmed at Dos Kolegas [两个好朋友], which unfortunately closed down last year, but had been for several years the greatest of Beijing's cheap, divey music bars - a place run by musicians, for musicians: grungy, chaotic, but always great fun!!!)

The band won the China and Asia rounds of the 2010 Global Battle of the Bands contest, but then lost momentum - as Jean-Sebastien, in his usual restless way, began to move on to other areas of musical interest - and have only played a  rare reunion gig in the last three or four years.

You can listen to the whole of their one-and-only album, Escape, for free on Bandcamp.

We are very privileged that this guy came down to Hangzhou to play just for us.