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Ant Law Quintet

Life I Know


by Ian Mann

November 08, 2018


Law is one of the UK’s most distinctive guitarists and this album will further enhance his reputation as both a musician and a composer.

Ant Law

“Life I Know”

(Edition Records EDN1119)

“Life I Know” is the third album as a leader by the British guitarist and composer Ant Law and his first for Edition Records.

Like its predecessors “Entanglement” (33 Records, 2013) and “Zero Sum World” (Whirlwind Recordings, 2015) it features Law’s regular working group, an all star quintet featuring the talents of Mike Chillingworth (alto sax), Ivo Neame (piano), Tom Farmer (double bass) and James Maddren (drums). Of these Phronesis pianist Neame is the comparative newcomer, John Turville having occupied the piano chair on Law’s début.

Law studied physics at Edinburgh University prior to a stint at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston and his writing and tune titles are often inspired by scientific and mathematical principles. He is also published author, having written a book on the subject of the “Perfect Fourths” system of guitar tuning titled “Third Millennium Guitar; An Introduction”.

Now a full time musician he is perhaps most familiar to UK jazz audiences for his work with his Edition label mate, saxophonist and composer Tim Garland. He is also part of Trio HLK, a collaborative unit also featuring pianist Richard Harrold and drummer Richard Kass. This core trio is frequently augmented by the famous classical percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie.

Others with whom Law has worked include saxophonists Paul Riley and Alam Nathoo, trumpeter Henry Spencer and drummer Ollie Howell plus the band Partikel, led by saxophonist and composer Duncan Eagles.

In 2016 he toured with the Art Of Rhythm Trio featuring Matt Ridley (double bass) and Asaf Sirkis (drums and konnakol), a group fusing Indian classical music with jazz.

Law’s musical interests are wide ranging, embracing jazz, rock, blues, world and contemporary classical music. This is reflected in his writing, which is often complex, but which remains highly rhythmic and pleasingly accessible.

Album opener “Movies” contrasts a lilting melodic theme with jagged rhythms, out of which emerges a stunning guitar solo from the leader, the sustain heavy, spiralling intensity of which sometimes recalls the late, great Allan Holdsworth. Law is keen to stress that despite its complexities this is essentially a rock piece, explaining; “Many guitarists playing jazz steadily shed all their non-jazz influences, I haven’t, yet”.

Law plays both electric and acoustic guitars, and has sometimes been sighted playing an eight string model. As befits its title “Searching” is more reflective than the opener and begins with a simple, folk-like acoustic guitar strum. Chillingworth and Neame combine on the lyrical theme, which gathers an anthemic momentum as Law, Farmer and Maddren get behind them.  The piece was inspired by a train trip up the east coast and the vista across the North Sea just south of Edinburgh.
“The piece reflects this as it builds in scale and dynamic”, explains the composer, “it is based around an unusual six bar harmony, this uneven phrase correlates to the beautiful (but uneven) natural landscape”.  Unfortunately at two minutes and forty seconds the journey is all over far too quickly.

Nonetheless the momentum is maintained on the lengthier “Aquilinus” which has a more orthodox jazz feel, with another attractive melodic theme providing the springboard for future complexities and for solos from Law, again adopting a Holdsworth like tone, and from guest Tim Garland on fluent, but highly charged tenor sax. There’s also a drum feature for the excellent Maddren, a musician capable of handling the demands of Law’s music with considerable aplomb.

At the centre of the album is the tune “Pure Imagination”, written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse and famous for its inclusion in the film “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory”.  The lyric  “There is no life I know, that compares to pure imagination” gives Law’s album its title.
Law treats the tune to a solo guitar performance, removing nearly all the chords and making effective use of electronic effects to create a spacious, shimmering, ethereal soundscape. “I wanted to leave more to the imagination of the listener” explains the guitarist.

The two part “Laurvin Glaslowe” (which appeared in another form on the album “Entanglement”) explores the rhythms and timbres of South Indian classical music and their similarities to contemporary jazz styles. In this sense it’s a continuation of his work with the Art Of Rhythm Trio and Law invites one of his colleagues from that band, Asaf Sirkis, to provide the Indian style ‘mouth percussion’ or konnakol on the “Introduction to Laurvin Glaslowe”.
Sirkis’ vocal gymnastics are accompanied by the sounds of finger cymbals (at a guess) and a sitar like drone, presumably generated by Law’s guitar.
“Laurvin Glaslowe” itself eventually explodes out of this, the “angular rhythmic frameworks” (Law’s words) common to both Indian music and 21st century jazz now reminiscent of the sound of New York. There’s now an edgy, urban energy about the music with its jagged rhythms and biting unison guitar and alto sax lines. Feverish solos come from Law on guitar and Neame on piano with Sirkis briefly joining the group again towards the close. Law spent some time in New York studying with some of that city’s leading guitarists, among them Ben Monder, who Law has acknowledged as a particularly significant influence.

The twelve and a half minute “The Act Itself” is this album’s epic with Law describing it as the album’s “darkest piece” and as a “long-form contemporary classical type thing”. The title refers to “the psychological relationship between thoughts and actions, and which of those defines us”. Heavy stuff, as is the music on this brooding, densely written, episodic composition which passes through several distinct phrases during the course of its duration. The suite like arrangement includes the effective use of bass clarinet, although its not certain whether this is played by Chillingworth or Garland as neither is credited with the instrument. Elsewhere Chillingworth is featured more assertively on alto and there’s also another feature for Maddren.

The cinematic theme running through the album emerges again at the end with “Credits”. This composition began as a solo guitar piece and was moulded into a group performance in the studio. Law begins in solo mode, with the rest of the band making subtle entrances, including Farmer on bowed bass. Law says of the piece “ I wanted to have a euphoric and warm piece to finish on, reflecting the resolution of the album, and an antidote to some of the more dissonant and dark music in the preceding track. This piece plays as the credits roll…”. Following a gentle introduction the piece explodes into life with a Bonham like crash of the drums, triggering an ecstatic soprano sax solo from guest Garland.

Packed with imaginative writing and excellent playing “Life I Know” is a tightly focussed piece of work from a well balanced, long running quintet where everybody knows their roles and fulfils them admirably. Guests Garland and Sirkis, both similarly familiar to the leader, make telling contributions and add to the overall success of the album. Law is one of the UK’s most distinctive guitarists and this album will further enhance his reputation as both a musician and a composer.

I’m currently looking forward to seeing Law perform with a one off international quartet at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho as part of the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival. Law will line up alongside Belfast based pianist Scott Flanigan, bassist Ferg Ireland and French drummer Marc Michel. It’s a free lunchtime event on Monday 19th November and further details can be viewed here;

“Life I Know” will be released on Friday, November 9th 2018.

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