by Ian Mann
February 20, 2015
Ian Mann enjoys a performance by guitarist and composer Ant Law and his all star quintet. He also looks at Law's latest album, "Zero Sum World".
Ant Law Quintet, Dempsey’s, Cardiff, 18/02/2015.
Tonight’s performance was the last of a “mini tour” in support of “Zero Sum World”, the second album as a leader by the young guitarist and composer Ant Law. Released on Whirlwind Recordings on February 16th 2015 the new album features Law with an all star cast of Michael Chillingworth (reeds), Ivo Neame (piano), Tom Farmer (double bass) and James Maddren (drums), a veritable who’s who of contemporary British jazz.
The recent run of dates has seen Julian Siegel replacing Chillingworth who is currently indisposed with a lung related illness. All at The Jazzmann wish Michael a speedy recovery. However if you have to employ a “dep” then who better than “super sub” Siegel, a brilliant sight reader and a highly experienced and fluent soloist. Although Siegel’s tenor gave the music a substantially different sound (Chillingworth’s main horn is the alto) he fitted perfectly into the group and his work on bass clarinet was also a source of considerable delight.
I’d been lucky enough to have been sent a copy of “Zero Sum World” and, for me, it’s the best of the recent crop of very good Whirlwind releases with some superb playing complementing Law’s sophisticated, and often highly complex, compositional ideas. The album builds upon the promise shown on Law’s début, 2013’s “Entanglement” (33 Records), which featured Chillingworth, Farmer and Maddren but with John Turville in the piano chair.
“Zero Sum World” has received universally positive reviews thus far (Marlbank, Bebop Spoken Here, The Herald Scotland) and Sebastian Scotney wrote a glowing review of the album launch show at Pizza Express for London Jazz News. Good reports also reached me with regards to the quintet’s Bristol gig. I was therefore expecting big things on my first visit to Dempsey’s in 2015 and this stellar line up didn’t disappoint as they delivered the goods in front of an enthusiastic audience including a large number of students from the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Drummer Maddren is a visiting tutor there and he got plenty of support from his charges and earned the biggest cheer of the night!
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 a pioneer on the “perfect fourths” system of guitar tuning (E,A,D,G,C,F instead of the usual E,A,D,G,B,E ) and is a published author having written a book on this subject entitled “Third Millennium Guitar; An Introduction”.
Law is clearly a very thoughtful young man and the above might suggest that his music is inclined towards the dry, academic and forbidding. However for all the sophistication of his harmonic and rhythmic ideas Law’s music is also surprisingly accessible with a strong melodic focus alongside the complexities. More importantly he has a supremely talented band who can interpret his ideas with consummate skill and a very human warmth.
The bulk of tonight’s material was sourced from “Zero Sum World” beginning with “Waltz”, one of Law’s more self explanatory titles. This built from a solo guitar introduction and the gradual addition of bass and cymbal shimmers to create a classic “guitar trio” environment. Things moved on with Siegel’s statement of the melodic theme supported by Neame at the piano before the tune opened out with a series of expansive solos, the leader going first. I’ve read that Law deploys perfect fourths throughout the album but as a non musician it’s beyond me to comment. I did however note that he deploys a very clean, almost classic jazz guitar sound and that he uses his boxes of effects sparingly and wisely. Behind the relatively conventional sound there seemed to be some very clever and sophisticated chording reminiscent of such contemporary guitarists as Ben Monder (more on him later) and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Neame followed at the piano, concentrating his attentions on the middle two octaves, before handing over to the effortlessly fluent Siegel on tenor.
This opening piece seemed to sum up exactly what the Ant Law Quintet is all about, the presentation of clever , sophisticated, and often complex ideas within a highly melodic framework.
“Mishra Jathi”, the first of two tunes with Sanskrit titles, saw Siegel switching temporarily to bass clarinet. Meaning “septuplets” the piece took some of the complex rhythmic and melodic ideas of Indian music and combined them with Maddren’s hip hop style drum grooves. With wonderfully imaginative solos from Neame on piano and Siegel on tenor plus a precision timed sudden ending this was another excellent example of Law’s compositional abilities and the group’s playing skills.
A segue of “Asymptotes” and “Parallel People” began with solo guitar before Law and the tenor toting Siegel combined on the initial theme of a piece that retained a strong melodic focus. As the performance opened out Neame and Siegel engaged in a series of absorbing piano/saxophone exchanges and Law delivered a particularly compelling solo that included some astonishing finger positioning.
The first set ended with “Entanglement”, the title track from Law’s first album. The title has a sub plot, the piece is inspired by the way that two of Saturn’s moons swap orbital paths at regular intervals but without the celestial bodies colliding. It’s a good metaphor for the intricacies of Law’s music and perhaps for human relationships in general. A suitably spacey introduction featured arco bass, bass clarinet and piano innards and there were hints of old style prog rock in Law’s main theme. Siegel moved back to tenor for the bulk of the tune as Farmer, Law and Neame provided the solos, the latter a thrilling excursion in piano trio mode that brought Neame’s other group, Phronesis, to mind. Maddren’s drum feature delighted his local following and as the piece eventually drew to an ethereal close Siegel switched back again to bass clarinet. His moving between instruments was a characteristic of the first half, testament not only to Siegel’s versatility but also to the attention to detail in Law’s writing.
From “Entanglement” a second piece with a Sanskrit title opened the second half. “Kanda Jhati” explored Indian quintuplet rhythms to produce a strangely shuffling groove which provided the impetus for solos from Law on guitar, Siegel on tenor and Neame at the piano.
The epic “Monument”, the lengthiest piece on the new album is Law’s tribute to American guitarist Ben Monder, clearly an enormous influence. The piece ran through a myriad of phases, the shifting mood perhaps attempting a full depiction of Monder’s musical personality. With Siegel initially on bass clarinet the tune began in lyrical, gently melodic mood before undergoing a sudden dynamic shift and becoming more urgent with knotty rhythms and a decidedly avant garde feel. Central to this was a remarkable arco bass feature from Empirical bassist Tom Farmer as he conjured almost impossibly, dark, grainy, groaning sounds from his instrument, alternating these with gentler cello like sonorities. This passage marked the transition into the more straight forward “Blues”, a contemporary slow blues that featured excellent solos from Neame on piano, Law on guitar and Siegel on tenor, these three also coalescing delightfully towards the end to deliver some convincing unison melody lines.
The title of “Triviophobia” literally translates as a ” a fear of appearing trivial or insignificant” but is actually Law’s acknowledgement that he can sometimes take himself too seriously, thus the tune is about how he deals with this “triviophobia”. It’s a piece that allows him plenty of room for self expression, sharing the solos here with a particularly expansive Neame and with Maddren closing things out with another impressive drum feature.
Law revealed that the last time he’d played at Dempsey’s he was suffering with tendinitis and was in so much pain he actually had to sit out the whole of the second set. Tonight’s show was a far happier occasion and the quintet rounded off an excellent evening of music making with the title track from “Zero Sum World” opened by Siegel on unaccompanied tenor sax , his long melody lines slowly drawing in the rest of the group as the music developed incrementally. Maddren’s solid, rock influenced grooves powered solos from Siegel, Law and Neame plus some tenor and guitar exchanges that reminded me Siegel’s partnership with Phil Robson in Partisans.
The quintet will return to the road in May for a further series of UK dates. It’s not certain yet who will be playing reeds, hopefully Chillingworth will have recovered sufficiently by this time, but I’d urge anyone reading this to check out this stellar grouping of some of the UK’s best contemporary jazz talent. In the meantime the album “Zero Sum World” is highly recommended, a stimulating listen that combines the cerebral with the accessible.
ANT LAW QUINTET TOUR DATES MAY 2015;
1 May - Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Sudbury
15 May - The Red Lion UAB, Birmingham
20 May - Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham
21 May - Bonington Theatre, Arnold
22 May - Capstone Theatre, Liverpool
23 May - Zeffirelli’s, Ambleside
24 May - The Royal Clifton Hotel, Promenade, Southport
25 May - Cockpit Theatre, London
28 May - Mau Mau Bar, London
ZERO SUM WORLD TRACK LISTING;
1. Zero Sum World
4. Mishra Jathi
6. Parallel People
9. Symbiosis 14:21:34