John Law, virtuosic pianist capable of traveling from deepest left field avant garde, to straight laced classical or to elegant, lyrical contemporary jazz piano trio sounding more like Keith Jarrett than the man himself, has been touring an acoustic trio playing ‘other peoples tunes’. On Friday they arrived at Bristol’s Be-Bop club with a line-up to die for: percussionist and drummer extraordinaire Asaf Sirkis and bass tyro Tom Farmer who first came to national attention with Empirical. This may have been a set of compositions by people other than John Law, but they had all been dismantled and lovingly re-assembled preserving the essence and melody, but giving them an utterly distinctive stamp and providing great vehicles for improvisation and interplay. We were greeted by the back room of The Bear that is the BeBop club in mid re-furb with a new entrance and something of a jumble chairs, and a glorious version of Somwhere performed by Tom Waits bleeding out of the PA: gradually John joined on piano and as the band took over a beautifully re-harmonised version of the tune emerged with John’s flowing tumultuous phrases, two handed unison lines, and flurries of counterpoint embellishing and warming us up. Then, In your Own Sweet Way became an odd-time latin groover, Straight No Chaser’s distinctive melody was stripped down to the rhythmic stabs that start its phrases. A spooky ostinato figure, doubled by the bass and piano utterly transformed the ballad Never Let me Go and So What was a dissonant funky groover in 7/4. In other hands, these adjustments might have seemed contrived, but it was all so effortlessly delivered and created such a distinctive sound that I was simply enthralled. Sirkis on drums was unobtrusive but was never less than utterly sympathetic and propulsive. Soloing honours were shared pretty evenly between piano and bass. John Law has an engagingly quirky imagination so that his improvising is always absorbing and surprising without losing the sense of an evolving melody. His arranging skills took a slightly mind bending turn as the long first set closed with Oleo and Rythm-ing (both tunes written over the chord changes of I Got Rhythm) played simultaneously – Rythming in the left hand and Oleo in the right. It hurt just to think about it! This gig was a delight. We crept out towards the end with the strains of a gently grooving version of Sting’s Field’s of Gold following us, feeling good to be alive and warmed by the glow of great live music.
John Law OPT Trio, Be Bop Club, Friday 11th March