|L-R:Ivo Neame, Ant Law, Tom Farmer|
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 16th Feb 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
Time and again last night there were reminders of quite how high the level of musicianship in London is, and of what a quintet of our first-call players outside their more familiar contexts can do. Their overall assuredness, their band-feel, their inter-reactivity is so high, there is such positive energy, such high quality listening, trust and freedom going on....I was left with a single thought that wouldn't go away: how on earth can the complete absence of UK bands at the main industry showcase in the world, Jazzahead in Bremen in April be explained or justified? It surely defies all logic.
Each of the members of guitarist Ant Law's quintet has other allegiances, plays in better-known bands, but in this context, they were helping him to bring his varied and fascinating compositions to life, elucidating his fascinating stories. Law's tunes often have an engaging, easeful lyricism, but that instinct is conjoined with a delight in asymettry. Triviophobia is exactly that. The challenge for the players is to make its contours attractive, while at the same time relishing their unpredictability and irregularity, and also, for good measure, allowing the whole piece to grow organically. It takes seasoned musicians to bring this off.
If you start from from the foundations of this band, there are two musicans, bassist Tom Farmer (better known from Empirical) and drummer James Maddren (better known from, well, everywhere - SEE OUR RECENT INTERVIEW) who have been stalwarts with Ant Law - both were also on his first album. Farmer gives a vast range of tonal colour, from a muffled Haden-ish thrum to fully resonant strings and in one solo gave a convincing impression of a Japanese koto. Maddren is as ever alert. alive to everything, but also capable - in a tune like Monument, written in praise of Ben Monder - of suddenly cutting across with delightful explosions which give the band a visible jolt.
For pianist Ivo Neame - it was John Turville on the first album - this is a very different context from the more extrovert tautness of Phronesis. He clearly relishes the challenges of playing music with a quieter more watchful, surreptitious vibe. In his soloing, he invariably brings an additional sense of freedom in the moment, of being able to take the listener to unexpected places. In the textures which emerged as he slotted back into the team-player role, the balance in his voicings, his classy supportive playing were a constant delight.
Ant Law's regular partner in front, Mike Chillingworth, had had to step down through illness at short notice. Step on Julian Siegel. He took on the role at virtually no notice and his contribution was a forceful tour de force. The contrast of Siegel's playing versus Chilllingworth's more ethereal sound as can be heard on the album was fascinating. Siegel states melodies more emphatically and directly, Also, seeing him alongside a guitarist brought the visual memories of Partisans, where guitarist Phil Robson presents Siegel with a very different challenge. While Robson and Siegel have been sparring and joshing for years, Law is much more oblique, elusive and allusive. If one has prior expectations of how Julian Siegel is going to play, he will confound and surpass them.
Ant Law himself is a modest man, the last person who is going to sing his own praises. The context of leading, filling a gig with punters and friends is also a stressful one, but several times he showed what a thoughtful soloist he is. It is always worth listening carefully for the inner logic of what he does. The lines of his concentration and his melodic improvisation are long, There are controlled volleys of notes, but their is also a lyrical, listener-helpful, considerate side to his playing. I felt I understood his way of looking at the world better when he explained the background of the tune Entanglement. Law is fascinated by the theoretical possibility that two of Saturn'sixty-odd moons might swap orbital paths with each at regular intervals. The tune sends the band off into such an exploration in the calm beauty of space. But there isa parallel text: people with emotions also undergo entanglements in their orbits. His fascination with such parallels and with complexity draw one in to a different world, and his ability to define and shape that world grows stronger all the time.
If musicians who are as in-demand as those to be heard on the Dean Street stand last night choose to take on and inhabit Law's music with him, it is because he is not just a fine catalyst, but also, absolutely, their equal, Last night proved it.
The Zero Sum World tour dates are HERE (website has sound). There is a second night at Pizza Express Dean Street tonight.