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Monday, April 06, 2020

CD Review: John Law’s Congregation – Configuration

John Law (piano, keyboards, samples); James Mainwaring (saxophones, guitar); Ashley John Long (double bass); Billy Weir (drums).
(Review by Hugh C)

The founder and CEO of Bebop Spoken Here emailed me to ask if I would be interested in reviewing this CD, apparently, in his words “not my cuppa”.  I do usually prefer to imbibe a simple cuppa, real ale or perhaps a single malt and am not interested in the product of any “mixologist”.  I am however, musically open to a cocktail of genres and styles.

On receiving a review CD from Lance, I generally first have a quick read of the accompanying background material.  The downside of this is that the hype therein may already adversely colour my view of the CD before hearing a note!  This was emphatically not the case with this new release from the progressive and innovative label Ubuntu – I couldn’t wait to listen to the CD.

John Law – described as “experimental pianist, multi-instrumentalist and composer” – has feet in both classical and jazz camps, each complementing and enhancing the other.  With Congregation he has also begun to include electronic elements in his work.

The Kiss commences with a slow repetitive rhythmic crescendo on piano and drums to be joined by bass and saxophone in a metaphorical melodic embrace, drawing the listener in, soon to be faded out to rhythmic diminuendo.  The track segues into And Them with a funky groove and Law’s electronic piano, parrying with Mainwaring’s guitar and morphing to an almost prog rock (think Supertramp) feel towards the end.  Configuration – the title track’s name suggested by Law’s daughter, Holly – is another up-beat, piano led bash, this time featuring Mainwaring on sax.  This is my kind of album – solos, yes (on this occasion including nifty bass work by Long), but supported by the other band members in sympathetic jam, allowing the soloists to amply demonstrate their skills, but not leaving too much space for an ego trip. 

Scandinavian Lullaby commences with suitably atmospheric electronics, evocative of an empty, pine-clad landscape with the arrival of our small band of musicians announced by slow rhythmic drumming and almost Garbarekian saxophone tones from Mainwaring.  Processional, initially another piano/drums rhythmic duo is soon enhanced by arco bass from Long.  Mainwaring is initially back on guitar on this track, which certainly seems to be going somewhere, as he reappears on sax later on.  Jazzshh...commences with the simulated anticipatory hubbub of a busy club.  Electronically generated bass tones then introduce a jazzy groove, Mainwaring’s sax adding a melodic swing, continued by Laws on piano.

Now for a complete change:  Disfigured Bass features a sample from Bach’s Organ Prelude in F Minor played by Massimo Pinarello.  After 40 or so seconds of organismic delight the electronic bass groove resumes with rhythmic support from Weir’s drums, to be joined by piano and sax.  Ghostly elements of the Bach Prelude’s motif reappear and disappear. 

Through a Glass Darkly continues with distorted bowed bass which resolves into ethereal electronics, such as might provide the soundtrack to a Sci-Fi movie.  We are brought back to terrestrial reality by a melodic saxophone line, to be then transported back into electronic space.  Definitely back to earth for Complex City which starts with car horns and other street sounds, soon to be replaced by spiky electronics and drums with admixed electric guitar and piano.  Urgent saxophone tones recreate the rush and busyness of city life.  The track is brought to a close with the sampled voices of the musicians themselves. 

These Rolling Clouds is introduced by delicate solo piano from Laws, joined half way through by Mainwaring’s mellow saxophone, and finally by bass and drums, very much in the background on this track.  The Kiss (Memory of a Kiss) reprises the theme of the opening track.

All the tracks are composed by John Laws.  In his words from the sleeve notes:  “each piece [has] a unique texture, compared to other tunes”, imparting a “jigsaw approach [which] does, however come together to form an interesting configuration”.  Interesting indeed and a pleasure to listen too.

Configuration is released on May 1 on the Ubuntu label. Catalogue:  UBU0036.
Hugh C

PS: John Law’s Congregation have (probably had, in view of the current situation) a launch tour planned – details here:  note Sage Gateshead date planned for September 25.

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