‘Zero Sum World’ – Ant Law


MARKING his debut release on the Whirlwind label, guitarist Ant Law’s second album Zero Sum World assembles something of a British contemporary jazz dream team to realise the frequently freewheeling adventure of his own eleven compositions.

For the last fifteen years, Law has practised perfect fourth guitar tuning – symettrising string intervals by simply nudging up the top two by a semitone. As well as creating instrumental logic and order (Law is also an accomplished pianist), it also provides the opportunity to more readily develop and extrapolate ideas across the entirety of the fretboard, as well as offering subtle harmonic variation. Equal to this album’s creative challenge are Mike Chillingworth (reeds), Ivo Neame (piano), Tom Farmer (bass) and James Maddren (drums), Neame being the only line-up change from 2013 release ‘Entanglement’.

As both composer and instrumentalist, Ant Law takes an inquiring approach to his music – not unexpected, given his higher education in Physics (Google ‘zero-sum game’ for a clue to the album title) – which is evident as each of these extended numbers unfolds; and it’s this broadness which coaxes the listener in to discover more of its beauty (definitely not a lite gallop through standards or radio-friendly ‘choons’).

So, a sense of evolution is illustrated in the title track as it widens from Chillingworth’s solo sax line into overlapping chordal atmospheres created by Law and Neame; and, against the intensifying bass and drums urgency of Farmer and Maddren, guitar and sax share unison lines as well as developing their own improvisations. Law is showcased more prominently in Waltz, its memorable riff encouraging his deft guitar colorisations as well as characteristic piano invention from Ivo Neame (a thrill to hear in any line-up); and Mishra Jathi is an early highlight, delivering a seven-beat bass/piano/drum propulsion (reminiscent of Kairos 4tet) with an effective amalgam of instrumental textures and solos.

The initial dreaminess of Asymptotes gives way to a perky descending bass motif which sparkles especially to Ivo Neame’s lithe piano against Law’s guitar washes, whilst Parallel People‘s buoyancy is infectious, Chillingworth’s alto chromatically dancing around the band’s impressive maelstrom. In Triviophobia, the mellow-yet-sprightly tone of Ant Law’s guitar (with echoes of Wes Montgomery) swings out to Farmer/Maddren assuredness, as does the polyrhythmic quirkiness of Leafcutter and the shadowy nursery rhyme-like Symbiosis with its wonderfully twisted agility and the woody sonority of Chillingworth’s bass clarinet.

At nine minutes’ duration, statuesque Monument is dedicated to American guitarist Ben Monder, it’s underlying prog predilection pointing to the likes of early Genesis, plus mischievously free improvisation and jazz phrases reminiscent of Kit Downes’ solo releases (perhaps that’s the woodwind). The closing Blues is characterised by effective cantabile double bass and guitar, as well as Neame’s mastery at the piano – all topped off with a tantalising BB King-style fade-out!

Ant Law’s ‘magic eye’ artistry here (my description of the enlightened, three-dimensional experience to be found when delving deeper) is greatly rewarding to hear again and again. Indeed, a recent disparaging, left-field commentary on this album, having caused consternation but mostly hilarity amongst the jazz fraternity, indicates that it’s worth developing the listening skills to fully appreciate this quintet’s rich musicality!

Released on 16 February 2015, visit the dedicated Zero Sum World page for more information, audio clips, promo video and purchasing.


Ant Law guitar and compositions
Michael Chillingworth alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet
Ivo Neame piano
Tom Farmer bass
James Maddren drums

Sleeve art: Iza Turska (see also Alban Low’s Art of Jazz)

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4663 (2015)

‘Songs to the North Sky’ – Tim Garland


THERE ARE TIMES, on my long and increasingly rewarding musical journey, that I feel urged to express gratitude to particular musicians whose work has become a long-term source of enjoyment and inspiration.

Falling firmly into this category is the instrumental and compositional prowess of reedsman Tim Garland, for many years now a respected mainstay of the British jazz scene. With a long roll-call of collaborators, projects and albums (most notably Chick Corea, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, Dean Street Underground Orchestra and his own Lighthouse Trio), this most assured of saxophonists continues to develop and expand his artistic vocabulary, always with that warm signature vibrato.

Signed to progressive label Edition Records, Garland has now released this double album, Songs to the North Sky – featuring an impressive, interchanging quartet (seven musicians in all), and expertly configured orchestral/percussive forces – which represents a still higher pinnacle of writing and performance.

Part One focuses on the quartet material: eight tracks which bounce with characteristic ebullience, but also shimmer with expansive and often emotional beauty. Tim Garland’s dependable yet always exciting rhythm-maker, Asaf Sirkis, is key to proceedings, combining with the bubbling momentum of pianist Geoffrey Keezer and guitarist Ant Law on supercharged opener Uplift! The lightness of Kevin Glasgow’s electric bass and luminous piano of Jason Rebello refract the smooth golden rays of Little Sunshine, over which Garland’s tenor sings mellifluously. A Brother’s Gift finds a more reflective space, courtesy of Law’s steel strings and Sirkis’s distinctive custom kit – and often it’s the small details which please the ear, such as Garland’s ornamental phrasing, and also one particular end-of-phrase expiration here (odd, but true!).

There’s a hint of Earthworks days in the leader’s command of Yes to This, John Turville and Ant Law both sparkling with positivity; The Perth Flight‘s propulsive energy offers a great showcase for both Garland and Rebello; and Farewell to Ed is a delightfully freer episode, enhanced by Law’s subtly overdriven electric guitar explorations. Garland has long been a champion of the bass clarinet, and his unmistakably fluid ‘voice’ is heard in Lammas Days (along with flute), an exuberant celebration of the magic conjured between these versatile musicians. A soprano and piano interpretation of Tom Bahler’s She’s Out of My Life (Michael Jackson) closes this sequence; in less capable hands, so easily mawkish and shallow – but Garland and Rebello elevate it to somewhere very special.

The larger, themed work, Songs to the North Sky – supported by Sage Gateshead and Royal Northern College of Music – forms the second half of this release, and creatively draws on the dramatic open landscapes of Tim’s Garland’s adopted North East England homeland. Whereas 2008’s double album Libra found the composer writing on a larger, symphonic scale (the four-movement Frontier with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), there is an even greater organic balance here, successfully fusing saxes and percussion with The Royal Northern Sinfonia Strings. The result is genuinely compelling – a 50-minute episodic jazz/orchestral masterpiece which vividly paints Northumberland’s rugged coastlines and wide skies, Garland often hinting at 20th Century English string writing (Tippett, Vaughan Williams, Rodney Bennett) as well as Glass, Pärt, and even Celtic influences which are colorised by the energetic violin soloing of Magdalena Filipczak. Asaf Sirkis melds perfectly with the suspense of Neil Percy’s classical percussion; and John Patitucci’s four equally interspersed bass interludes are remarkable – certainly not bass ‘fillers’ but, rather, beautifully imagined, skilful miniatures in their own right.

With both CDs regularly alternating in my car audio player for the past couple of weeks, I emphatically recommend this significant new release – and if you’re searching for stars (maybe over Kielder’s dark sky zone)… here they are ★★★★★.

Available from 2 June 2014, listen to samples and buy here.


Tim Garland tenor and soprano sax, bass clarinet, flute
Jason Rebello piano (tracks 2, 5, 7 & 8)
John Turville piano (tracks 3, 4 & 6)
Geoffrey Keezer piano (track 1)
Asaf Sirkis drum kit, custom percussion set, hang
Ant Law electric and steel string guitars (tracks 1, 3, 4 & 6)
Kevin Glasgow electric bass (tracks 2, 5 & 7)
The Royal Northern Sinfonia Strings
John Patitucci double and electric basses
Neil Percy tuned and classical percussion
Magdalena Filipczak solo violin


Edition Records – EDN1051 (2014)

‘Live at the Blue Boar’ – John Law’s Boink!


THE LICHTENSTEINESQUE cartoon cover art of pianist and composer John Law’s new album, ‘Live at the Blue Boar’, perhaps belies the depth, invention and musicality of his new quartet project known as ‘Boink!’.

Law has delighted, for many years, with the eloquence of his writing and musicianship. His various trio and solo piano albums have become treasures in the jazz catalogue, pushing creative possibilities with the outstanding ‘Congregation’ (2009) and ‘Three Leaps of the Gazelle’ (2012) which experimented so successfully with prepared piano, electronics and samples. ‘Boink!’ take this a step further, with a greater emphasis on electronics and effects, and the addition of electric guitar, soprano sax and bass clarinet, as well as drums. In the hands of a consummate and dedicated musician such as Law, the result is both surprising and exciting.

The album was recorded live at the Blue Boar, Poole, Dorset (though, with no evidence of the audience, this could easily be a studio production, such is its clarity). John Law eschews the Steinway for electronic keyboards/synths and backing tracks – yet, importantly, the orchestrated sound is far from synthetic, combining expertly with guitar, reeds and drums to create a refreshing assembly of jazz, rock and ambience. All but one of the compositions (John Coltrane’s ‘Naima’) are Law originals.

An introductory scan of the album drew me in to Jazzz…, one of those tracks which immediately demands repeat play (bringing to mind Joe Zawinul’s 1980 rework of Ellington’s ‘Rockin’ in Rhythm’). Through an atmospheric urban weave of café/barroom chat and taxi horns, a faux horn section and Rhodes combo teasingly nudges its way into the foreground, Rob Palmer’s mellow-toned guitar and Jon Lloyd’s dulcet soprano soon establishing their improvisations over a catchy walking bass effect. This nine-minute swinging groove is irresistible, Law’s unmistakably adept piano display glistening as always.

Fast-running opener, Dark Knight, is propelled by Law’s keyboards and Laurie Low’s cymbals and fast toms, Lloyd’s bass clarinet barking through a haze of fear-laden electronics – very effective, atmospheric picture-painting indeed. Lessness, as its title indicates, offers a certain weightlessness in instrumentation overlaid with an oration of words by Samuel Beckett (keys, guitar and soprano merging beautifully over the sustained effects), whilst the echoey, nimble And Them finds Lloyd and Law improvising over impressively intricate drum patterns, the whole repetitive piano-led momentum becoming more and more compelling.

An electronics ruckus introduces and threads through Boink! (the track), Law soon commanding order via customary piano bravura, Lloyd’s soprano the perfect partner in this lively number. In huge contrast, recalling the horror of ‘9/11’, the chilling Incarnadine Day is inspired by words credited to 15 year-old Holly Law: “…in death our immortal victims of hate still live; etched in ash, their memories sing across the sky; the dead will never die.” Rob Palmer’s electric guitar and Law’s equally hard-edged keys bring an appropriate urgency to this memorial, dazed bass clarinet and effects seemingly evoking the incredulity of the aftermath of this world-changing disaster.

John Law’s interpretation of Coltrane’s Naima (from ‘Giant Steps’) is fascinating, its Coltrane/Shorter-like soprano sax smouldering into a wash of carefully-programmed ambience, percussion and keyboard elegance. Closing number So Fast So Good pleasingly suggests further Weather Report influence. Its fast-moving, upbeat 7/8 piano and organ riffs (complete with F1 asteroid accompaniment!) are superb, the wah-wah guitar of Palmer such a great feature, as well as his persistent, crunchy lead. With Lowe an exceptional rhythm maker, this is an exhilaratory finale!

Although ‘Live at the Blue Boar’ isn’t available through usual outlets, it’s easy to order (£10) directly from John by email (john.m.law@blueyonder.co.uk). Take a listen to Jazzz… and So Fast So Good over at SoundCloud – you’ll be hooked!

John Law
Korg, Yamaha, Arturia Minibrute, iPod
Jon Lloyd soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, effects
Rob Palmer guitar, effects
Laurie Lowe drums