Live review

Ant Law Quintet (2019 Cambridge Jazz Festival)

Ant Law Quintet – Life I Know
(Bateman Auditorium, Gonville and Caius College. Cambridge Jazz Festival. 18 November 2019. Review by John Arnett)

The small but very characterful theatre setting, in one of Cambridge’s oldest colleges, was perfectly suited to this Ant Law Quintet performance, presented in partnership with the college’s own jazz club. The two sets drew largely upon the guitarist’s third album Life I Know (2018) but with the addition of several worthy new compositions.

Ant Law Quintet. Photo credit: Aspa Palamidas

The album represents a real development musically for the leader, and in this intimate space it was a pleasure to be a party to the interactions between musicians of this calibre, where quietness and subtlety are de rigueur.

The first set began with two new tunes, Two bridges and Harvest of which the second was particularly memorable, and indeed pastoral, as the title suggests, featuring some fine ensemble playing. Mike Chillingworth’s alto solo was delicate and lyrical, with guitar accompaniment enhanced by use of the swell pedal to create drifts of sound, as well as intricate unison passages. Laurvin Glaslowe was a similarly fast and labyrinthine melody featuring a virtuosic guitar solo, exploring the instrument’s sound possibilities – fast flurries of notes juxtaposed with long, sustained ones, swell and volume pedal effects, growling lower register open string rhythm patterns, with harmonics. Underpinning this were a succession of seamless and apparently intuitive rhythm changes. The understanding and concentrated listening between James Maddren (drums) Tom Farmer (double bass) and Ivo Neame (piano) was something to see and hear. In this composition especially, Ant Law is intent on exploring some of the common ground, particularly in terms of rhythm, between jazz and S. Indian classical music, and to striking effect.

Rounding off the first set, Pure Imagination was a gorgeous and uplifting solo guitar melody, moving straight into the unison guitar and sax theme of Aqualinus. James Maddren’s mastery of the drumkit was manifest throughout this concert, but perhaps especially here. Not only that, but the sheer enjoyment of it – I’ve seldom seen anyone looking happier playing music! Ivo Neame’s piano solo on this piece lifted off beautifully, and again it was marvellous to see how the rhythm section followed and responded to every nuance, Tom Farmer’s bass particularly moving into the foreground at times.

Highlights of the second set included Waltz from the Zero Sum World album, with its looping and soaring interwoven melody lines on alto, piano and guitar. It is a very attractive tune, played with feeling and subtlety. A fine and lyrical alto solo was a special feature, as was a swinging final section with upbeat guitar and piano solos. Credits was a very fitting coda to the evening. Originally conceived as a solo guitar piece, it is a fluid, lilting melody of the kind you find yourself whistling (or trying to) as you head out into the moonlit quadrangle…

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