John Law's New Congregation review – gifted jazz maverick is full of surprises

Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
The British pianist’s impeccably reshaped group is more contemporary-music recital than jazz burnup

Alfred Brendel described British crossover pianist John Law in 2003 as “an interesting and highly gifted maverick musician”. Last year, Law simultaneously released both an authoritative and very personal reworking of Bach’s Goldberg Variations and a set of new originals for jazz quartet, the maestro’s judgment remains right on the nail. Law is currently touring the UK, and brought the reshaped group he calls New Congregation to the Pizza Express Jazz Club this week – built around the impeccable double-bassist Yuri Goloubev and the succinct Laurie Lowe on drums, with sophisticated variations from Josh Arcoleo, a young saxophonist with a measured eloquence all of his own.

New Congregation’s Yuri Goloubev and Laurie Lowe at Pizza Express Jazz Club, London.
New Congregation’s Yuri Goloubev and Laurie Lowe at Pizza Express Jazz Club, London. Photograph: Venla Shalin/Redferns

Balancing lyrical themes and knotty structural challenges is a Law speciality, and he emphasised it from the off with an electronic loop that passed through an implacable, systems-music piano/drums repeat, and out into open spaces cruised through by Arcoleo’s quiet yelps and terse phrasing, trimmed and steered by Goloubev’s guiding interventions. The epigrammatic, Wayne Shorter-ish tenor sax theme of When Planets Collide was prefaced by bell-like electronics and quiet prepared-piano clatters, and a Goloubev solo of humming tones and delicate top-end figures built to a fierce percussion climax.

On the ensuing twilit sax theme, a glittering Law piano break of pin-sharp swing and thoughtful development soon outstripped the melodic interest of the vehicle in which it was travelling, but the hypnotically circling treble melody of These Skies in Which We Rust – edging out of celeste-like chimes and the choral backdrop of a Brahms Requiem recording – was a highlight of the gig, as it was of the album.

However intense it gets, a Law performance often sounds more like a contemporary-music recital than a jazz-driven burnup (he pointedly called the gig a “concert” in his intro) and he’s such a good improv pianist that hearing more of that would be welcome – but, as in most years, the gifted maverick has come up with another set of fascinating surprises.

At Dempseys, Cardiff, on 2 March. Box office: 029 2049 6802. Then touring until September.


John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Take Five: John Fordham's month in jazz – April

From Kurt Elling at Ronnie Scott's to the first London jazz festival tickets, John Fordham picks out the month's musical highlights

John Fordham

19, Apr, 2013 @9:33 AM

Article image
Wayne Shorter review – living embodiment of jazz genius
Shorter’s quartet was delectable and articulate, then merged with Poland’s LutosAir for deft swaps between ensemble passages and improv

John Fordham

21, Nov, 2016 @3:18 PM

Jazz preview: Nov 4

Wayne Shorter/Stan Tracey, London | Gamelan Shokbreker, on tour

John Fordham

04, Nov, 2006 @12:08 AM

Article image
Wayne Shorter/JLCO review – bravura and cool as jazz giant comes to town
Wynton Marsalis’s 15-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra did a good job of keeping up with saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s unleashed improvisations

John Fordham

19, Feb, 2016 @1:39 PM

Article image
Jazz album of the month: Wayne Shorter: Emanon review – vivid and sublimely thrilling
Sax supremo’s triple-album and graphic novel concept-package impresses with its idiosyncratic spontaneity

John Fordham

31, Aug, 2018 @7:30 AM

Article image
Kurt Elling, jazz singer – portrait of the artist
'It's hard to read Heidegger, especially if you spent the night before sitting in with Chicago's jazz musicians'

Interview by Laura Barnett

14, Nov, 2012 @9:46 AM

Article image
Julian Argüelles: Tetra review – full of jazz and non-jazz surprises
Combining with a trio of young jazz players, Argüelles latest release is packed with striking, vibrant tracks, reflecting his freewheeling personality

John Fordham

15, Oct, 2015 @5:45 PM

Article image
Top jazz and world-music picks for autumn
Wayne Shorter headlines a much-anticipated gig, followed by the London Jazz festival in November, while the blind duo Amadou and Mariam tell their life story – in the dark

John Fordham and Robin Denselow

04, Sep, 2011 @8:10 PM

Article image
Blue Note boss Don Was: 'Jazz can't become synonymous with pop again'
He’s the shamanic funk star who produced everyone from the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan. Now, he is steering jazz’s most iconic label into the future – by embracing its ‘secret scene’

Ammar Kalia

20, May, 2019 @10:00 AM

21 years of the London Jazz festival: 21 key moments

The London jazz festival celebrates a key birthday this year - 2013's festival is its 21st. Our critics John Fordham and John Lewis, who've covered between them every festival, pick their favourite moments from each year

John Fordham

06, Nov, 2013 @12:48 PM