Photo credit: Will Bremridge
Crowdfunding albums via online platforms is something many jazz musicians are turning to these days to support what can be a costly and often laborious process.
Guitarist Ant Law is currently working on his third album in this way after the conventional label releases of Entanglement and Zero Sum World. He says:
“I thought this time it would be cool to bring people behind the curtain a little. People often contact me on my website asking me ‘what’s going on in this tune rhythmically?’ or asking about sheet music. They come up to me after gigs asking about song titles, asking for lessons, or comment on videos on my Facebook page asking questions. The pledging system makes all of these things really accessible. It also allows the really keen beans to contribute significantly and give a massive boost to the project. Not only that, it gives you a direct line via the crowdfunding platform to all the pledgers, so you can communicate – there’s a nice social element too. And then of course there’s the obvious – it’s a way of ‘hotwiring’ the system, financially, which allows the artist to surmount the (seemingly) insurmountable!
“I feel incredibly inspired right now and I have a pad of new compositions – I prefer the term ‘tunes’ because compositions to me implies a Ravel/Wagner level of composition/orchestration chops! Which I certainly do not have. This new pad is basically bursting at the seams. I have 15 tunes. I have no idea which ones will make the final cut. Hopefully all of them but I am really pleased with them – this is a new feeling for me. We have tried a few out on gigs and it’s been great. It may be a symptom of understanding music in general better now, understanding my band mates better now, or inspiration, or I don’t know what. But I feel excited and compelled to document this music. And it’s going to be great! Partially due to my amazing sidemen.”
Law has kept the same band on board from his previous albums, that’s Michael Chillingworth (alto sax/bass clarinet), Ivo Neame (piano/possibly keys), Tom Farmer (bass) and James Maddren (drums). He is full of praise for them: “They are really great, and amongst the finest players around, if not the finest.” And the process of getting the album together is progressing well: “It is going OK so far, we are about halfway funded. The studio is provisionally booked in November. We may be able to mix and master it as early as December. Then pressing early-2018, but it depends what I decide to do with the release, etc. It’s not confirmed yet. But mid-2018 is probably a reasonable time to expect it.”
Law has been part of the London scene for a while now, I ask him if the London scene has changed since he first became part of it and whether gigs are more plentiful or not. He says: “For me personally it is gradually getting easier, but I think that’s normal as you get to know everyone and put out a few CDs, etc. I should say that it still is hard! Just less hard… I don’t really know if there are more gigs or less. The difficulty with living here is playing regularly enough to keep your chops together, but managing to bring an audience to everything.”
Law came to jazz in the first place via a love of rock: “I was into the more rocky guitar heroes in my youth – Hendrix, SRV, Vai, Satch. And I was trying to learn jazz to make me better at rock, but I hadn’t really checked it out. One time at uni I was very stoned listening to a CD of Trane playing My Favourite Things, and it completely blew my mind. Not sure if it was McCoy & Trane or the THC but it certainly stayed with me! The modal thing did have parallels with the music of Vai and Satriani so that helped too. Also other crossover artists like Russell Gunn, Herbie, Courtney Pine helped get me into it.”
Law’s upbringing was unusual, growing up as he did in Saudi Arabia and living there until a teen. Did Arabic music influenced him in certain ways?
“I suppose so. The most exciting thing about Arabic (and Persian) music to me is the explicit use of microtones. I do have an Oud at home, a fretless guitar, and a Saz, and a quartertone guitar. Although I’ve yet to reconcile those interests with the ‘jazz’ style I am seeking. What I mean is that if I hear a minor 3rd split in half, I don’t think ‘Oh no that’s out of tune’, I tend to think ‘lovely — sounds Arabic’. Despite the long, rich, global history of microtonal music, it is still such a niche thing. I was going to begin my first album with a microtonal solo guitar piece but in the end I chickened out. Without going into too much detail, the harmonic repercussions are extreme, and so using those melodic colours as your starting point requires a totally new harmonic palette. Steve Lehman’s and other spectral music deals with this, I believe. If any readers are interested in this sort of thing I highly recommend Czech composer Alois Hába’s quartertone opera Mother or some of the beautiful microtonal string quartets by Julian Carillo.”
Law incorporates plenty of elements from rock, pop, folk, Indian music, electronic and classical music into his compositional style.
“It’s great ‘hese days because we can access nearly everything in seconds, and I do listen to a range of music. However, other musicians are always telling me about countless new/old bands that I’ve never heard of, so I don’t know about everything by any stretch! My listening does include a great deal of the more ‘traditional” style jazz, as does my practice and transcription. I don’t really know why that is — it’s not conscious or deliberate. We probably just seek the sounds we love in the end. I would love to record a standards album soon. Whether I am able to say anything on those type of frameworks remains to be seen/heard. I have to say that music draws me to it whether I choose it or not. So some days I really need to hear Ben Monder’s music. Other days it’s Trane. Other days it’s the Eagles. Other days Meshuggah.”
His attitude to jazz standards is a thoughtful one. “It’s a very big question, because of the incredible diversity and breadth of music that we can call ‘jazz standards’. Possibly I am more happy listening to old-fashioned music than I am playing it. But I often use standards as starting points for compositions. The way Bird and thousands of others did and will continue to do. Really it depends what you are aiming to do. I like to make music for listening. Some tunes were written for Broadway shows (one purpose), then rebuilt for cats to develop improvisational language on (another purpose). Some music is meant for dancing (yet another purpose). I’m not sure exactly where I fit in but at the moment this band is not aiming to make music for dancing! Ha ha! Having said that, groove is very important to me. When I do play older tunes that have been played by hundreds of other musicians throughout the last century, the challenge can be more psychological, i.e. do I play like me or do I play in the style? But I try not to think too much and let the music flow.
“The most exciting thing about jazz standards for me is musicians using the same tunes as a reference point. Of course this phenomenon is definitely not limited to jazz! But listening to Bird play I’ll Remember April, then Dolphy (with Mingus), then Ben Monder – how amazing to have such varied results from the same core material!”
Law studied physics at university and his career path could have been radically different. What made him decide on music, I wondered? ‘”Uni there were a few days where I actually did what I was told and did physics all day. I very quickly learned that it was not for me. At that time I had a band and was writing and playing jazz gigs, and quickly learned that music was for me. It’s basically the only thing I can tolerate doing all day every day. Except for playing video games, but after a few weeks of just that I start to feel weird. I like drinking beer all day too but I’m not aware of any ways to monetise that yet, and that also takes a bit of a toll! For the record, at the time of writing I’ve been off the sauce for two months!”
He says the current project has taken about two years to develop all the music fully. “Some embryonic ideas were there earlier. Some tunes emerge fully formed (like a melody I found called Swan Song), whilst others take ages (like a really long piece called The Act Itself). It’s quite stop and start. You have to get inspired by your own music, which doesn’t always happen! No doubt it will continue to change as we play it live.”
Law has written notes on the pieces that he is recording for his new project with details to be found on his Crowdfunder page, and accessing them is one of the pledge rewards for backers of the project. He has also made a Spotify playlist of many of his influences. (pp)
LINKS: Crowdfunder Ant Law Quintet
Ant Law Playlist