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John Law’s Re-Creations

John Law’s Re-Creations, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 18/03/2023.

Photography: Photograph of John Law by Hamish Kirkpatrick of Shrewsbury Jazz Network.

by Ian Mann

March 21, 2023


Re-Creations is a project that has got its mojo working again and it was a pleasure to watch this latest edition of the group at the top of its collective game.

John Law’s Re-Creations, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 18/03/2023

John Law – keyboard, Sam Crockatt – tenor & soprano saxophones, Henrik Jensen – double bass, Alex Goodyear – drums

I have been listening to the music of pianist and composer John Law on disc for more than a decade and have also enjoyed a number of live performances at various venues, with Law leading a variety of different line ups.

London born Law was classically trained but later gravitated towards jazz and improvised music and has appeared on around forty albums since making his recording début in 1989. His extensive discography has explored several areas of music and has encompassed jazz and free improvisation alongside a still ongoing love of the classical tradition. In purely commercial terms Law’s musical restlessness and his reluctance to be pigeon-holed have probably counted against him, but it has resulted in a rich and consistently interesting and rewarding body of work. Among those with whom he has collaborated are saxophonists Jon Lloyd and Andy Sheppard, bassist Tim Wells and drummers Paul Clarvis, Louis Moholo Moholo and Gerry Hemingway.

I first encountered Law’s music in 2009 when he appeared with his trio at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny. At that time he had been working on his “Art of Sound” series of albums, all of which were recorded at the famous Artesuono Studio in Italy with the celebrated recording engineer Stefano Amerio. Over the years Law has recorded frequently in the solo piano format and the second and third volumes in this series were solo piano recordings. Volume one and four featured him with a trio featuring bassist Sam Burgess and drummer Asaf Sirkis.

The fourth album in the “Art of Sound” series was released in 2009 and was titled “Congregation”.  This was a more extrovert, hard driving album than the others in the series and featured the trio experimenting with electronics for the first time.

Law then resurrected the Congregation name for the ambitious 2014 double set “These Skies In Which We Rust”, credited to John Law’s New Congregation and featuring a new band comprised of saxophonist Josh Arcoleo, bassist Yuri Goloubev and drummer Laurie Lowe. 

Also credited to John Law’s Congregation was the superb “Configurations” recording, released in 2020 and featuring saxophonist James Mainwaring (of Roller Trio fame), bassist Ashley John Long and drummer Billy Weir. My review of this album, from which much of this biographical details has been sourced, can be found here;

The Art of Sound and Congregation series of recordings have focussed on original material and Law has consistently proved himself to be an intelligent and imaginative composer. But he also enjoys putting his own stamp on the music of others, among them jazz composers such as Thelonious Monk or classical composers such as Frederic Chopin and Erik Satie. In addition to this Law has produced many inventive jazz arrangements of well known pop and rock and tunes.

I first encountered his innovative interpretations of outside material when his Opt Trio, featuring Sirkis and Goloubev, appeared at Abergavenny. In this instance the word ‘Opt’ stood for “other people’s tunes” and although there was never a formal Opt Trio release Law did sell an “official bootleg” at gigs for a while.

In time the Opt Trio evolved into the “Re-Creations” project with Law officially releasing three volumes of this series between 2017 and 2019. The second of these was a solo piano disc but Volumes One and Three introduced a new quartet featuring tenor saxophonist Sam Crockatt and two young graduates of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire, bassist James Agg and drummer Billy Weir. This line up appeared at the 2019 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny and have also been previous visitors to The Hive.

With Billy Weir now living and working in France and with James Agg having been forced to retire from full time music due to injury Law has formed a new version of the Re-Creations quartet. Law and Crockatt have now been joined by the experienced Danish born bass player Henrik Jensen, a composer and bandleader in his own right who is now based in the West of England. On drums is Alex Goodyear, a recent graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff and an increasingly busy and in demand presence on the UK jazz scene. Goodyear has been a great friend of Black Mountain Jazz and of the Wall2Wall festival and I was particularly eager to witness his playing as a member of Law’s quartet, this being his most high profile engagement thus far as a member of a nationally known group. The irrepressible Goodyear didn’t disappoint and on the evidence of tonight’s superb band performance he and Jensen have helped to breathe new life into the Re-Creations project. Law was visibly more relaxed than I’ve seen him in the past and the leader was clearly revelling in the fresh energy that Jensen and Goodyear have brought to the band, and particularly the effervescent young drummer.

The current version of Re-Creations started gigging together in 2022 and already have a large number of performances under their collective belts. The rapport that they have generated is palpable and impressive and they have already recorded a new album, a release that should become available in a couple of months time and which will be very keenly anticipated.

Tonight’s show featured material that will appear on the new recording and included Law’s distinctive and innovative arrangements of well known classical pieces, jazz standards, rock and pop songs and movie themes. Introducing the band Shrewsbury Jazz Network chairman Mike Wright promised us that we’d know the tunes and that we’d love the quartet’s interpretations of them. He was right on both counts and an appreciative audience at a very well attended Hive gave the Re-Creations group a great reception.

Law’s arrangements are inventive and tightly orchestrated, but are still full of unexpected twists and turns with plenty of room given over for collective and individual improvisation and self expression. The leader was playing a Korg electric keyboard from which he was able to generate a broad range of sounds, among them acoustic and electric piano, organ and a variety of synths. Although Law bemoaned the lack of a grand piano at The Hive and would probably have preferred to have doubled up on acoustic piano and electric keyboards he still impressed at the Korg.

Crockatt, also a bandleader in his own right, started on soprano sax as the quartet began with their innovative jazz interpretation of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”, a performance that saw several variations of tempo and dynamics with Goodyear moving between brushes and sticks and with the leader adding electric timbres to his acoustic piano sound. Crockatt and Law were the featured soloists, with the leader adopting an acoustic piano sound for his feature.

Only in the Re-Creations group could Debussy be followed by Deep Purple. The famous “Smoke On The Water” riff has been quoted in many a jazz solo but Law’s arrangement with its tenor sax multiphonics, mix of keyboard sounds and the sights and sounds of Goodyear channelling his inner Ian Paice was a revelation. Interestingly both Paice and Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward were influenced by big band swing. Solos came from Crockatt on powerful, big toned tenor and Law at the keyboard, a particularly flamboyant excursion featuring a mix of piano, electric piano and organ sounds. I’ve never seen Law in such a playful mood, something I ascribe to the influence of the perennially cheerful Goodyear.

After the sound and fury of Deep Purple (although Law’s arrangement did include some subtler moments too) to the atmospherics of Stanley Myers’ composition “Cavatina”, best known as the theme tune from the film The Deer Hunter. An extended solo piano introduction that included the use of cross hand techniques led to an atmospheric section featuring the sounds of bowed bass and the shimmer of mallets on cymbals. Crockatt then sketched the familiar melody on soft, breathy tenor saxophone, accompanied by the gentle swish of Goodyear’s brushes. Jensen’s melodic pizzicato bass solo was underscored by a combination of string synth sounds and piano arpeggios, courtesy of the versatile Korg. Brushed drums and tenor sax then returned for a restatement of the theme.

To close the first set Law promised us a “baroque version of a jazz classic”. This turned out to be the old Frank Sinatra hit “Fly Me To The Moon”, although most audience members were probably a long, long way into the flight before they eventually recognised it! I know I was. This was another piece that was ushered in by an extended passage of unaccompanied piano with Law making extensive use of counterpoint. Double bass and brushed drums were then added to the equation before the music gathered momentum with the introduction of Crockatt’s powerful tenor sax. But this was a piece that was still to go through numerous twists and turns, a second passage of unaccompanied piano followed before Crockatt returned on soprano sax to duet with the leader. A more conventional soprano solo followed as bass and drums were re-introduced. Crockatt’s solo was followed by a well constructed drum feature from Goodyear that made imaginative use of the bass drum as it progressed from the gently impressionistic to the downright explosive. We have lift off, indeed. Crockatt then resumed on tenor for a final statement of the “Fly Me” theme.

This had been a brilliant first set and one that drew an appropriately rapturous reception from the Shrewsbury audience. The crowd’s enthusiasm was reflected in healthy CD sales during the break.

The three Re-Creations albums to date have all appeared on the 33 Jazz record label and I think I’m correct in believing that the new one will be on the same imprint. During the first set Law had let us know that the new release will be titled “Many Moons” as so many of the new arrangements are of tunes with the word ‘moon’ in the title.

Ons such is Van Morrison’s “Moondance”, which opened the second set. This is a song that has become rather too familiar in a jazz context in recent years but Law managed to find something new to say about it in a typically imaginative arrangement that mixed dynamic contrasts with baroque flourishes. Law mixed electric and acoustic piano sounds during his solo and he was followed by Crockatt on tenor, the saxophonist’s powerful solo driven by Jensen’s propulsive bass lines and Goodyear’s crisp, neatly detailed drumming.

Goodyear’s drums introduced MC Hammer’s “You Can’t Touch This”, subsequently joined by bass, electric piano and soprano sax. Crockatt’s solo saw him probing intelligently above Jensen’s rapid bass walk, Law’s keyboard bass and Goodyear’s energetic drumming. Law’s solo featured a mix of electric piano and synth sounds while Crockatt switched to tenor as an increasing funk element began to inform the arrangement.

Law returned to the world of cinema for “Falling In Love Again”, famously sung by Marlene Dietrich in the film “The Blue Angel”. This was presented as a ballad with an unaccompanied piano intro followed by a trio passage featuring melodic double bass and brushed drums. Lyrical solos came from Jensen on double bass, Law on piano and Crockatt on tenor sax.

The introduction to “You And The Night And The Music” seemed to be almost intentionally ‘cheesy,’ but things didn’t stay that way for long with inventive solos from Law on piano and Crockatt on tenor sax, the latter a dynamic excursion that saw the group temporarily slipping into classic saxophone trio mode.

The performance ended on an unexpectedly wistful note with “Moon River”, introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied, arpeggiated piano followed by a spacious trio section featuring double bass and brushed drums. Crockatt’s soprano provided that yearning quality and the excellent Jensen also featured on melodic double bass.

Another rapturous reception ensured that the band remained on stage for a deserved encore, a radical, rollicking gospel tinged interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Blown’ In The Wind” that threatened to shade off into free jazz and which featured some dynamic drumming from Goodyear and a powerful tenor sax solo from Crockatt. Great stuff.

In terms of crowd numbers and audience reaction this was SJN’s most successful gig of 2023 thus far and it also represented a triumph for Law and his colleagues. This was the best, and most dynamic, of the Re-Creations shows that I’ve seen and the release of the new album will be very keenly anticipated. Law is a brilliant technician and his own playing was superb, as was that of his very able colleagues.

Crocakatt and Jensen are experienced performers and I knew what to expect from them. However thanks to the Abergavenny connection I was particularly keen to see Goodyear’s playing in this context and I’m pleased to say that he rose to the challenge magnificently. I’ve never seen him play better and he’s clearly a fully fledged and totally integrated member of this ensemble. His drumming combined power, precision and flamboyance with attention to detail and a great deal of sensitivity when required. All the promise that he has exhibited previously at Abergavenny is now being fully recognised within this high profile, nationally acclaimed quartet.

My thanks to Alex, Henrik and John for speaking with me at half time and after the show and for their playing at such a great gig. Re-Creations is a project that has got its mojo working again and it was a pleasure to watch this latest edition of the group at the top of its collective game.

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