London's best venues for jazz and improv music

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The capital's best places to catch improv jazz, free-form and experimental sounds

Vortex Jazz Club - Well known for its consistently exciting programming Vortex Jazz Club - Well known for its consistently exciting programming - © Damien O'Hara / Time Out

Whether you're in search of a night of improv jazz or free-form/experimental skronk – or something in between – let our pick of London's best venues for avant sounds be your guide

  • Bar & Co

    Temple Pier, Victoria Embankment, WC2R 2PN

    Boat-Ting is London's only maritime improv music event and is held on the first and third Monday of every month on this 150-capacity craft moored on the Thames, in the shadow of the London Eye and Big Ben. Since 2002 it's been tirelessly championing avant poetry (twisted wordsmith Sybil Madrigal is Boat-Ting's curator and MC), supremely off-kilter combos and general freeform, avant mentalism.

  • Café Oto

    18-22 Ashwin St, E8 3DL (www.cafeoto.co.uk)

    This large, open space, which opened in 2008 and is tucked away down a side street behind Kingsland High Street, provides a fine home for a wide range of experimental music – including free improv – that exists well outside the mainstream. There's a strong emphasis on the more out-there of underground Japanese artists, but you can expect to encounter everything from Norwegian improv/free jazz/psych-rock power trio Bushmen's Revenge to a talk by minimalist composer Terry Riley.

  • Luna Lounge

    7 Church Lane, E11 1HG (www.lunalounge.info)

    This agreeable Leytonstone cellar jazz bar (with upstairs curry eatery) plays host to considered music madness in the shape of Luna Fringe, a monthly evening of free improv and experimental, leftfield oddities. Offerings in 2010 have included new outfit Aida Severo (featuring Led Bib saxophonist Chris Williams) and The Zen Bicycle Band, who combine Jethro Tull-like folk idioms with ethnic music and jazz. Not necessarily the dark side of the moon, then, but certainly the far side.

  • Ray's Jazz at Foyles

    113-119 Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0EB (www.foyles.co.uk)

    Free events in the café on the first floor of this venerable West End bookshop are by no means restricted to, but often include improv sets from the likes of Splatter, who feed shards of rock and black metal into their freeform jazz soundscapes and keyboardist Steve Beresford in a quartet with two clarinettists and drums.

  • Ryan's Bar

    181 Stoke Newington Church St, N16 0UL (www.myspace.com/ryanslive)

    The basement of this Stokie pub has been championing the more left-leaning of north London's independent music makers for almost 20 years, via institutions like the Corn Rocket Club (dedicated to garage, punk, trash, surf beat and rock ’n' roll). It's also the site of regular improv meet, Flim Flam, which regularly showcases freeform sounds from far further afield than its Stoke Newington home.

  • Vortex Dalston

    11 Gillett Square, N16 8JH (www.vortexjazz.co.uk)

    Now well-established in its Dalston home after an enforced shift around four years ago from Stoke Newington, the Vortex has developed a strong profile on London's improv jazz scene and is now well known for its consistently exciting programming. Mopomoso is the free improv club night to catch here. A monthly, it was founded in 1991 by guitarist John Russell and pianist, trumpeter and composer Chris Burn. Expect instrumentation to range from the traditional to the newly invented, and there are occasional collaborations with artists working in poetry/spoken-word, dance, film and performance art, too.

Users say

5 comments
Cat
Cat

A tiny, easily overlooked and absolute goldmine is Ajani Grill and Jazz in Upper Holloway. Nestled next to Tesco on the crappy end of Hornsey Road, the owner/host/chef all-round lovely human, Patrick, produces amazing food and hosts regular Jazz evenings - I don't want the world to know about it, but keeping it a secret seems selfish!

John
John

You should add the Bull's Head in Barnes and of course Ronnie Scott's (when they decide to actually programme jazz which does happen ocassionally)

Jack Davies
Jack Davies

Don't forget the North London Tavern in Kilburn - some of the best live modern jazz every Sunday night from 7pm - £5!