Ant Law (from the album The Sleeper Wakes, Edition Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
A quick skim through the biography of British jazz guitarist Ant Law should be enough to tell you that this is a serious musician whose approach is as cerebral as it is passionate. Born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Law grew up on Arabic music alongside Blues and Rock'n’Roll. A dedicated scholar of his craft, Ant Law spent a season in New York to study with equally dedicated Jazz players such as Ari Hoenig and Gilad Hekselman. He also has a book to his name, “3rd Millennium Guitar”, a treatise on the virtues of Perfect 4th tuning. The Sleeper Wakes, on Edition Records, is Law's fourth release as band leader.
The album opens with a beautiful soundscape of tinkling bells and guitar, a little reminiscent of John Coltrane's Interstellar Space, before unfurling into an enveloping slow-paced and short-lived exploration. The bass hops like a grasshopper. Percussion swirls like a breeze. Somehow there's a magical 'garden' feel, wistful and romantic yet with an undefinable air that shivers and shakes and intoxicates with something both foreign and familiar. “The Sleeper Sleeps” gives way to “The Sleeper Wakes.” Staccato drums roll, drop and tantalize. Ant Law's guitar is wondrous, turning on a sixpence from sparkling arpeggios to charming runs and the occasional heavy slicing. Through it all piano splashes bursts of colour, gently driving both melody and rhythm. Horns call and cry with all the orchestrated wildness of nature. I hear shades of both Ornette Coleman and Wayne Shorter.
Of the eleven tracks on The Sleeper Wakes, ten were written by Law himself. A word on the band - seasoned player and composer Ivo Neame (Professor of Jazz Piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama) handles keys; Tom Farmer, who also forms one-fourth of highly respected British jazz group, Empirical, provides acoustic bass and the much sought-after James Maddren plays drums. This is the core of the group, with additional heavyweight support from Tim Garland, Adam Kovacs and Michael Chillingworth on tenor sax, percussion and alto sax/bass clarinet respectively.
This is exploratory, challenging music which at the same time never confuses or frustrates. It feels organic, vital and timeless. Anyone familiar with classic Blue Note releases from the 1960s are bound to appreciate Ant Law's approach, which successfully marries the adventurous to the melodic. There's a search going on here, as in the best offerings from this genre. Each of these players strives to uncover that undefinable, perfect noise, which lies somewhere between thoughtful intent and the complete by-passing of cerebral interference. “Bridges” paints a wondrous portrait. With the bare minimum of notes, Law summons a sense of timeless pathos over spare, strident drums, rain-drop bass and clouds of piano. “Our Church” is a slow exposition, almost chamber-like in its stateliness. There is nothing restrained or elitist about it, however. You could feel as if you are lying in some ancient meadow with closed eyes, the music playing light and shade and a little fresh rain. “Her Majesty” is lyrical, soft and warm, with a thrilling undercurrent of the unknown.
With Jazz, possibly more than any other musical genre, insights as to the artists intent and approach do much to illuminate the results. The Sleeper Wakes, says Law ‘is the joyous flip-side to (previous release) Life I Know’. With Ant Law, it seems that there is a fascinating story behind every cut. The two eponymous tracks which open this album, for example, concern ‘a man who wakes after 200 years to discover he is the richest man on Earth’. “Remembering” pays homage to the 1934 standard “My Old Flame”. Time is the unifying theme, on this album, a subject which feels unerringly apposite to jazz itself, with the music's ceaseless explorations of varied signatures and, to dramatize a little, the space-time continuum as a whole. For fans of this genre, The Sleeper Wakes is a delight. For those who don't think of themselves as appreciative of Jazz, I would still urge you to give this a listen. (by Chris Wheatley)
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