Wednesday, February 1, 2012

If You Like Mehldau and Jarrett: John Law is a Must

John LawJohn LawJohn Law is a 51 year old British jazz pianist and composer. He was born in London to British and Austrian parents. Just as pointed out in the blog about Aaron Goldberg, Law is another one of the many young jazz pianists who started in classical piano, in this case at age 4. With the teaching and help of a mentor, Austrian concert pianist Alfred Brendel, he was awarded a scholarship to study piano and composition at the Royal Academy of Music (1979-83), and followed that with an Austrian government scholarship to study for a year in Vienna, where he shifted from classical music to jazz. By 1990, he was working with saxophonist Jon Lloyd, and recorded his first CD, Syzygy (Leo Records). He later worked with Tim Garland, Martin Speake, Julian Siegel and others while composing, doing improvisation and avant garde concerts, and incorporating classical language into his jazz.

Since 2007 Law has been most widely known for his four discs in his project entitled The Art of Sound. The music on all four discs, released between 2007 and 2009, is almost exclusively Law's originals, sometimes fully improvisational, and always extremely melodic, compositions. Two of the discs, Volumes 1 and 4, are done with Asaf Sirkis on drums and Sam Burgess on bass; the other two (Volumes 2 and 3) are solo. The trio demonstrates a wide palette of sound colors and tempos, along with the virtuosity and intensity of their partnership. A more recent disc, This Is, is a duo with Mark Pringle, and is not one of the series.

Product Details
Product Details

The Art of Sound Volume 1 (33 Records 2007) -  Law identifies no influences but does speak of who he enjoys listening to; in an interview with All About Jazz (November 4, 2009) he identifies Tom Cawley, Tord Gustavsen, EST, Bad Plus, Gwilym Simcok, and others as some of those he enjoys greatly. But he doesn't mention two other influences that seem to hover around the piano and his playing, Americans Brad Mehldau and Keith Jarrett. Like Mehldau, who called his CDs the Art of the Trio, Law calls his The Art of Sound, which at least indirectly creates a link in one's mind. Just as Mehldau does, Law is able to boldly create highly independent lines in his left and right hands, provides wonderfully rich harmonies and melodic structures, and builds his works with a great deal of expression.  He is a highly tuneful composer, as demonstrated first by the lovely, lilting "Close of a Long Day" and then by the upbeat, jazzy "Blue Sky Blue." Together with Sirkis and Burgess, the trio is a constant joy to listen to.

The Ghost in the Oak (Art of Sound Volume 2) and Chorale (Art of Sound Volume 3) (33 Records 2008) - Thse  two solo discs were recorded at the same time in 2007 at the Artesuono Studios in Italy (from where the name Art of Sound is derived) and released in 2008. This is an awe-inspiring display of virtuosity, and will readily bring to mind the improvised music of Keith Jarrett, particularly his later shorter pieces from New York, London/Paris, but also his epic playing at Koln. Again, the mastery over both hands as they play opposite each other, here contrapuntally and there in sequence, coupled with the flowing melodies, make for an outstanding listen. Classical piano lovers will appreciate his slower, stately, elegiac pieces. Still, he swings as well on  "Zero-G", and features a boogie-like tune in  "Fair Weather Friend".

With regard to his music, and his variety of playing styles, Law told All About Jazz: "I think I try and retain some of the best elements of classical music—chief among these has to be classical (functional) harmony; it's unique in the whole of world music—and mix them with those elements I get from jazz which I don't get from the classical tradition—mainly what I sometimes call the voodoo element. The repetitive rhythm and groove, which classical music never has." (Interview with John Law, All About Jazz, November 4, 2009). He went on to talk about his improvisational methods, which are powerfuly demonstrated on these discs: "Funnily enough I try and achieve, with my improvising, a feeling that it's sort of almost been composed beforehand, and with my compositions, the idea that they're made up on the spot. I don't always try for this but it's somewhere at the back of my mind. Because, on the one hand I truly believe that only through real time composition can one achieve some of the most amazing results in music, in terms of perfect form and in terms of matching the atmosphere with something totally appropriate."

Congregation (Art of Sound Volume 4) (33 Records 2009) - Law returns to the trio with this disc, the last in the series, and his tunes are terrifically lyrical with a nice jazz groove and some interesting new percussion elements added for coloration. the title tune "Congregation" is a forward moving, lively, and at times almost anthemic, and it should get the foot tapping and body moving, which leads right into another upbeat tune, "Bo Peep." The music overall is a bit more adventurous and experiments with sounds, although not to the extent that they overwhelm the tunes themselves. But bassist Sam Burgess uses some distortion effects not unlike those of Bad Plus or EST, and Asaf Sirkis is more inventive than before. One can compare songs that appear on both solo and trio recordings, most notably how "Ghost in the Oak" is transformed by the addition of some very interesting bells, clicks, and assorted background sounds. Still, Law never releases completely from his classical underpinning, and "Still Life" for example retains his spontaneity with classical materials. The closing Chorale starts softly as a comtemplative piece which surprisingly ends with a Latin beat. Just a complete picture of a terrific artist, with some great drum soloing and arco bass complementing the piano.
This Is (33 Records 2011)- In his most recent outing, Law works in a piano duo setting with his student, Mark Pringle, and achieves yet another sonic victory. It's aminated and for a change includes compositions by others, including Pringle but also J.S. Bach, Lyle Mays, Pat Metheny, and Cole Porter. The two consistently are stretching the melodies and rhythms, initially opening up for investigation the Bach "Concerto for Two Harpsichords."  Lyle Mays's Chorinho is a lively exchange of tempos and improvisations, while "This" and "Is" are lovely ruminations on harmony and the nature of sound. This spirited recording not only introduces us to Mark Pringle, but also to another side of John Law, composer and interpreter.

For those who love piano music and particularly the music of Mehldau, Simcock or Jarrett, these recordings, no matter in which order you choose to listen and in solo, duo, or trio formats, will provide hours of listening pleasure.

John Law
The Art of Sound Trio (l:r): Asaf Sirkis, Sam Burgess, John Law

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