John Law’s New Congregation, 15th April 2016

John Law-86

Jazz musicians have many ways of being innovative—and on a good night, you might expect to hear melodic invention, harmonic variety and rhythmic surprises aplenty. But when a band devotes an evening to playing original compositions, another dimension is added. Gone are the familiar anchors provided by Broadway show tunes, the Great American Song Book and numbers widely regarded as jazz standards. In their place is a musical form of sailing beyond the sight of land. This requires composing skills of a high order—and deft playing to match.  Everyone familiar with John Law’s musicianship relished the prospect; and those new to his music were soon lost to it.

This occasion marked the 1000th gig for Wakefield Jazz, but there was nothing venerable about the music—in fact, it was a fine demonstration of why the club’s reputation is of a piece with its longevity. What better way of marking more than two decades of live jazz than with a band firmly rooted in the tradition, but playing freshly minted and utterly compelling new music?

What was fascinating about John Law’s music was the way in which many of the pieces were built around simple motifs, which gathered strength and momentum
as the individual players added and combined their parts. This meant that some of the best solo work was much more closely worked into the fabric of the music than is usually the case.  That kind of approach could have made for very dense textures, but in fact, there was a good deal of space, too, which all four men exploited expertly.

John Law’s classical background was evident only in his command of the piano and in his resourcefulness—and of course, in how well crafted the pieces were: these were true compositions, not sketches around which the band could be left to accompany and improvise. Bassist Oli Hayhurst was a marvel—a show on his own: nothing flashy or needlessly assertive, but powerful, resonant, room-filling sound, with a technique that would drive a merely competent bass player to despair. Sam Crockatt on tenor and soprano provided much of the controlled force of many of the quartet numbers, increasing the intensity and adding complexity, while Oli Hayhurst and drummer Lloyd Haines propelled everything forward.

Yet for all of the compositional skill on show, there was nothing chamber-like about this music. John Law’s piano playing alone would have ensured that, but there was also no shortage of fine soloing from each of his colleagues. They finished the evening on a rousing version of a Miles Davis tune—a nod to the recent past, from forward-looking musicians who know that the boundaries of jazz are defined and re-defined on every occasion that dedicated musicians and appreciative audiences meet.

J Whitman 17.04.2016

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