INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: John Law (Tour Dates until September)

John Law New Congregation. Photo credit: David Forman
Pianist and composer JOHN LAW is about to embark on an extensive British tour with his New Congregation, including a London launch of the band’s album, "These Skies In Which We Rust". He spoke to Peter Bacon about speaking to the heart, not being clever, and the imprecision that is instrumental music’s strength.

London Jazz News: Your current quartet, New Congregation, has developed out of the Congregation trio and the Art of Sound trio before that. What prompted the changes?

John Law: Essentially they were prompted by changes in personnel. The specific impetus for the new recording was reading my daughter Holly's poetry, which produced three of the tunes.

On the recording I used Josh Arcoleo on tenor sax, Yuri Goloubev on bass and Laurie Lowe on drums. On the up-coming tour I've got Dave Hamblett on drums, with some dates filled by Lloyd Haines. Josh is only doing a few dates, with Sam Crockatt doing most. On bass I'm alternating between four players: Yuri on quite a few, with Ashley John Long, James Agg and Oli Hayhurst doing the rest. I'm quite excited about keeping things fresh for myself by working with lots of different musicians!

With New Congregation I'm now trying to exert a little more control over solo space.

LJN: You are about to embark on a New Congregation tour and the London launch of your album. What can audiences expect at these concerts?

JL: The main thing I'm trying to do is cover lots of different areas. There are lots of references to classical music in these current compositions, from the general approach we take through to specific quotes. Then there's an element of rhythmic complexity.

And alongside this apparent complexity I'm fascinated by the simplicity and minimalism that form many of the contemporary creative trends. So many of my themes are really simple, and have a sort of rock music-like, quasi-anthemic quality. Then there's the electronics. I'm trying to use this quite subtly, so it's not overbearing.

In the end I want music to speak to people, to their hearts, not make clever music for other musicians.

LJN: You also have your Goldberg Project involving the music of Bach and film. Is your relationship with classical music different now from what it was when you were a child?

JL: I guess I'm coming back to classical music more now! Yet I've always played Bach, and generally started my day at the piano with his music.

I recorded the Goldberg Variations in 2014. I played the Bach fairly straight and then added an intro and outro, electronic ambient tracks composed by myself.

I've now started to do this work live, but with the added feature of visuals. I met the visual artist David Daniels in 2014 and he's put together a fascinating digital representation of the music. I'm still ironing out some kinks and I'm hoping to take the project into classical concert halls and maybe art cinemas in 2017/18.
Classical music will always be my first love. I just have to find the balance with jazz and creative/improvised music.

LJN: Are we living in an age where the divisions between different genres of music are being increasingly torn down? Or do you think it was ever thus? Does this make today a more exciting time to be making music?

JL: It's incredible how jazz has changed over the time I've been involved in it. The result of educational changes, plus the whole issue of the world shrinking though the use of the internet, and everyone's learning stuff from everyone else... If you want to see how things have changed I can show you how.

But if you want to know how things have stayed the same I can show you [that too]. Does anyone nowadays have more pianistic skill than Art Tatum, or Phineas Newborn, or the amazing relaxed pyrotechnics of Fats Waller?

Maybe we can't get any closer to the poignant, heartfelt truth relayed by music than a Chet Baker solo of the ’60s or a blues ballad by Bessie Smith from even earlier.

Plus, there's got to be a time (we're probably almost there) when the newness of cross-genre music begins to wear off. And then what? We're still faced with the same problems faced by musicians from previous generations: how do we mark time with sounds, in such a way that we convey something that speaks, that moves? It's always the same problem.

LJN: From classical to jazz, free to composed, your musical exploration has changed subtly over the decades. Were there things you got tired of; or things elsewhere that you were attracted to? Do you see your musical career as all of a piece?

JL: From one point of view everything I've done has come from me, so therefore it must be all of a oneness. From another point of view I must admit I've changed a lot over the years. And I believe that's confused a lot of people! It just sort of happened. I came across people and music that made me think and feel differently. I don't think there was anything that I got tired of, as such. All my new directions have felt really positive. It's always been something that really grabbed me, some person's music or playing, some genre/style that spoke to me in a way that the one I was playing in at that time didn't quite touch.

And I'm still very confused! For example I can go and hear a totally improvised gig and I'm all nostalgic again and envious for the complete freedom they have, to just go on stage, listen and play. A certain part of me thinks of all the composition and study of straighter forms of contemporary jazz I've done over the last 20 years as perhaps just preparatory to returning to free music... as a better, more rounded free player!

LJN: What most excites you outside of music?

JL: All my life my main interest outside of music has been art. A visual way of feeling music is quite essential for me, in many ways. Then there's the related interest of architecture.

Still, what really binds me to music is the imprecise nature of the 'language' we're dealing with. The words stop, the meaning becomes quite imprecise. That's why I'm completely devoted to instrumental music. I like music mainly because the words stop.

LINK: John Law’s website:

TOUR DATES - List correct as at 30th January 2016

February 2016

12/02/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Chichester University, Chapel of the Ascension at 7:30pm
18/02/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: The George, Norton St. Philip at 8:00pm
19/02/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Be-Bop Club, Bristol at 8:30pm
24/02/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Pizza Express, Dean Street, London at 7:30pm LONDON CD LAUNCH!

March 2016

02/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Dempsey's, Cardiff at 8:45pm
03/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Bonington Theatre, Nottingham at 8:00pm
04/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Xposed Club, Glos. University, Cheltenham at 8:00pm
10/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Blue Boar, Poole at 8:00pm
11/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Riverhouse Barn, Walton-on-Thames at 8:00pm
15/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: St. Ives Jazz Club at Western Hotel, St. Ives at 8:30pm
16/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Broomhill Art Hotel, Barnstaple at 8:30pm
19/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: The Collection, Lincoln at 7:30pm

April 2016

01/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Symphony Hall Foyer, Birmingham at 5:00pm
06/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Lescar, Sheffield at 8:00pm
07/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Seven Arts Centre, Leeds at 8:00pm
08/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Capstone Theatre, Liverpool at 7:30pm
14/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Cube, Corby at 7:30pm
15/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Wakefield Jazz at 8:00pm
16/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Sage Gateshead Jazz Festival, Gateshead at 4:00pm

May 2016

05/05/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Vortex Jazz Bar, London at 8:00pm
26/05/2015 Goldberg Project: Colchester Arts Centre, Colchester at 8:00pm
27/05/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Fleece Jazz, Stoke By Nayland at 8:00pm

June 2016

16/06/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Future Inns, Bristol at 8:00pm
17/06/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: St. Catherine's Church, Ventnor, Isle of Wight at 7:45pm
18/06/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton at 7:30pm

September 2016

09/09/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Meeting House, Ilminster at 8:00pm
24/09/2016 Goldberg Project: Holburne Museum, Bath at 8:00pm

LINK: John Law website

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