John Law is a man in constant motion. On a gig there is an often dazzling flow of ideas from the keyboard and piano. There’s also a restless forward momentum to the various projects he puts together. After a stream of acoustic trio albums he popped up with a band he called Boink!, three years ago now, playing with electronics alongside the more familiar acoustic jazz format. We got to see them early on as ideas were taking shape. The current line-up of his band Congregation he brought to BeBop Club on Friday marks a shift up-wards of gears. The samples, synths and pedals were all in the mix and the most recent addition James Mainwaring of Roller Trio fame, had a bewildering array of pedals for his saxes and guitar. There was a sense of them all now fully integrated with the music and the formidable improvising powers of the band to compelling effect. The quartet was completed by the dazzlingly virtuosic Ashley John Long and the relentlessly grooving Billy Weir on drums.
The repertoire drew on Law’s extensive back catalogue with by turns hypnotically pulsing soundscapes filled with elctronic squeals and loops and then blistering soloing and exchanges within the band. An early stand-out was And Them. It started as a skipping little groove with a catchy melodic hook from synth, doubled by the sax that could almost have been an early 80s electro-pop anthem. Then the mood thickened and suddenly a rampant exchange between just piano and drums with Law’s glittering, sinuous runs and two handed flurries hurling layers of rhythm at Weir which he returned with interest. A shimmering, free, dialogue between Long and Mainwaring, dissolved into a take on Naima with an insistent drone from keys and bass underpinning hoarse, soulful cries from the sax. I Sink Therefore I Swam raised the temperature further. A frantic, mazy pattern in Laws’s left hand, doubled by bass, bubbled under a dark theme. The soloing was incendiary, especially from Long. Scampering runs were a prelude to driving, wedge like chords on the bass building a volcanic momentum. Each of the quartet had moments like this. On Through a Glass Darkly the band laid down a shifting carpet of sound while Mainwaring found almost vocal, gutteral cries and squalls from the tenor to raise hairs on the neck. They played out on Giant Stabs, a rollicking Samba and plenty of Coltrane references to leave everyone on a high. A vintage night at the BeBop Club
These skies in which we rust, the latest release by the prolific and unfailingly creative pianist John Law, takes it’s title from a phrase in a poem by Law’s daughter Holly. He’s taking the repertoire on tour, starting tonight at Bristol’s BeBop Club and, with a London launch next week at Pizza Express, a quick review of the album and preview of the gigs is timely.
Tapping a range of sources for inspiration is a thread throughout this double CD offering. Contemporary rhythms and grooves from the world of dance and machine generated music, transmuted into an acoustic piano trio setting, underpin many of the layered, frequently odd-meter motifs and melodic hooks that loop and evolve. Law cites Radiohead’s music as informing his choices and there’s no escaping the pervasive influence of classic music, both in the fluid lyricism of Law’s playing and appearing explicitly in the title track with a sample from Brahm’s Requiem setting the scene. There are plenty of changes of atmosphere from the stomping, tense Seven Ate Nine to the limpid delicacy of I Hold My Soul To The Wind.
If rhythm and locked, looping sections are at the heart of many of the compositions, the life and energy is breathed into them by the formidable line-up. The bass chair is occupied by long-time collaborator Yuri Goloubev delivering singing, flowing lines and Laurie Lowe on drums is all taut energy and electrifying propulsion. The trio is augmented by Josh Arcoleo‘s tenor on four tracks, producing soaring sometimes hoarse throated cries and keening multi phonic wails, at others burning gritty solos. . Through it all, whenever space clears for soloing, Law’s flowing lines, instinct for building tension melodically as well rhythmically, lift the music and deliver an emotional charge.
This is a listen again (and again) album and for the tour, Law has assembled a shifting cast of the finest musicians in the land to work it over. Tonight in Bristol, Goloubev is on bass but the incomparable Dave Hamblett is on drums and the feisty Sam Crockatt, who has himself just released a very fine album (my review is here) is on tenor. On other dates, Lloyd Haines pops up on drums and bass duties are split between Ashley-John Long, James Agg and Oli Hayhurst. Whatever the line-up, this will be an exciting live experience and wherever you are there’s probably a date somewhere close. Check the itinerary here.
I reviewed this gig for Listomania – brilliant listings site run by Charley Dunlapp – they arranged the ticket and it is of course posted there as well.
“Ruins true refuge long last towards which so many false time out of mind.” declaimed John Law’s recorded voice. The apparently nonsensical words, but flowing rhythm of Samuel Beckett’s short story Lessness continued to bubble away as the liveJohn Law established first a groovy ostinato figure with his left hand using a Rhodes like organ sound, then added a jaunty flowing melody supported by Jon Lloyd’s soprano saxophone and stroked, distorted chords from the guitar of Rob Palmer. Mesmerizing visuals flowed across a screen behind the band, manipulated by Patrick Dunn as the interactions between the band members ebbed and flowed. Boink! Were getting into their stride in their second set at Bath Spa University’s performance space in Burdall’s Yard.
For anyone familiar with the leader’s dazzling virtuosity and fluent creativity at the piano, most often at the centre of an acoustic jazz trio in recent years, Boink! is a sharp change of gear. Billed by Law as his electronic project, the vibe, in between episodes of ambient washes of synths and meditative phrases from saxes, is rolling grooves with a rocky edge and deceptive twists layered with resonant, quirky and frequently beautiful melody. Drummer Lloyd Haines was unflaggingly inventive in embellishing and morphing the looping phrases, often in odd time signatures. It was all underpinned by Law’s insistent left hand, sometimes providing throbbing metronomic pulses, sometimes more overtly funky phrases and occasionally more jazzy walking bass lines. Jon Lloyd’s bass clarinet frequently doubled or shadowed the phrases adding a darker edge and nodding at Miles Davis’ early electric era.
There was excitement and energy thought-out both sets, supplied by some fiery soloing. On ‘When Planets Collide’ Lloyd’s soprano sax built phrase upon phrase over a crescendo of guitar and drums as the band responded to his emotional playing; on ‘Lessness’ Law really let rip, reeling out rippling runs and flowing melodic lines; on ‘So fast so Good’ Lloyd Haines provided one of the most compelling moments of the evening, received enthusiastically by the respectable crowd, with a drum solo that seemed to combine all the elements of the racing theme with a percussion like kit solo on top.
The project showed its newness at times, with moments of hesitancy and anxious instructions barked from the driving seat by composer Law as the band negotiated the shifts and changes of the almost all original pieces, but there was plenty here to revel in. The three students from Bath Spa who got to join the band briefly in the first set certainly showed their mettle. The band have a forthcoming national tour that will surely loosen things up. They are at the BeBop Club in Bristol in February as part of that tour.
This emerging series of gigs at Burdall’s Yard is certainly proving a welcome addition to the Bath scene, bringing really top class musicians to town.
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.