John Law’s Congregation – Configuration
(Ubuntu Music UBU0036. CD review by Adrian Pallant)
It’s a privilege to track the evolution of a musician’s career over many years, especially when, like pianist John Law’s, it simply goes from strength to strength. I first saw him perform at Brecon Jazz Festival in 2007 (the Art of Sound Trio with Yuri Goloubev and Asaf Sirkis); and, since then, through his solo and various Congregation ensemble albums, there’s been a clear sense of continual experimentation. Law’s beginnings as a classical pianist (studying at the Royal Academy; mentored by Alfred Brendel) are documented, and also traceable across his sizeable 30-year catalogue. He’s a methodical yet restless, sometimes playful musical spirit, but the connecting thread is that of an idiosyncratic jazz (even jazz/rock) personality.
Configuration – with James Mainwaring (saxophones, guitar, electronics), Ashley John Long (double bass) and Billy Weir (drums) – reaches another high summit on the pianist’s journey; a quartet recording of 70 minutes which doesn’t shy away from expanding its horizons through electronics, samples and ambiences to fully realise the vision of these original pieces. In fact, his approach in presenting each composition as a different ‘configuration’ – described as “a new picture, a different visual world” – stimulates interest throughout, and always with characteristic precision. It’s what particularly makes this sequence so rewarding – Law obviously at the helm, with the ‘three-dimensionality’ of judicious electronic keyboard tones, effects and depth, yet integrating completely with a band which includes the new voicings of James Mainwaring.
The hallmarks are there from the start as Law’s approaching, reverberating riffs and improv in The Kiss, complemented by melodic sax, segue into And Them, where echoic chords and high, quivering piano are flecked with endearing pop whimsy. He’s a great jazz rhythmist, too; the larger-scale title track (with shades of Congregation from 2009’s album of the same name) breathlessly jiving and popping to prominent displays from Mainwaring, Ashley John Long and Billy Weir. Scandinavian Lullaby’s soft, synthy progress also bears an unsettled weight of anticipation, Mainwaring’s hollow sax lament suggesting a futile tread along an empty street, searching every door and window (impressive soundtrack material reminiscent of Barbara Thompson and Jon Hiseman).
Processional’s trip-up piano metre provides great impetus for guitar, arco bass and screeching sax in a kind of minimalist/folk mash-up with a Canterbury/prog heart! And again, Law’s detailing – just a cheeky, wah-wah fade – is enough to raise a smile. In 2013, low-key live release Boink! delivered a little gem called Jazzz, complete with café chat and street atmospheres – and here, Jazzshh… picks up the theme again courtesy of a blithely swinging Rhodes/synth riff recalling Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter. The ‘Mussorgsky gallery’ promenade continues with Disfigured Bass, its opening sample of a Bach Organ Prelude (playing credit: Massimo Pinarello) expanding into another strangely compelling, Christopher Gunning-style TV mystery theme – something it shares with the dark theatricality of electronically-pulsed Through a Glass Darkly. Sidewalk-swaggering Complex City bluesily grooves, with Mainwaring‘s ‘car horn’ sax signalling a funky, double-time, nimble-bass step-up (maybe another Weather Report influence, albeit with a few japes). Dreamy, pastoral These Rolling Clouds delightfully nods to earlier piano pieces such as Close of a Long Day, Mainwaring’s mellow soprano and electronics floating up into the firmament.
Whichever of John Law’s ‘images’ stay with you the most, it’s likely you’ll keep returning to scrutinise the detail more closely in this uplifting album.
Released on 1 May at Ubuntu Music
Categories: CD review