In music, the material of the artist is sound. Music is the shaping of sound. It's no coincidence, then, that British pianist John Law has named his ambitious tetralogy The Art of Sound. The final installment, Congregation: The Art of Sound Volume 4, finds Law working with the same triobassist Sam Burgess and drummer Asaf Sirkisas he did on the very first release in the series, The Art of Sound (33 Jazz, 2007).
One of the advantages of the series is that it changes between solo recitations and group work, while still working with a core repertoire. Thus, it's possible to compare different versions of the same composition.
For instance, the haunting ballad "The Ghost in the Oak," written for ECM founder Manfred Eicher, originally premiered on The Ghost in the Oak: The Art of Sound Volume 2 (33 Jazz, 2008), but resurfaces here with Law introducing the theme using sparkling arpeggios, before the autumnal bow of Burgess' bass enters and Sirkis' sticks rustles in the background like leaves falling gently from a tree.
Throughout, Laws classical training is heard in his use of contrapuntal techniqueas on the Bach-influenced "Three Part Invention," but it's his romantic temperament that comes most to the fore in the wide use of emotional dynamics. On the whole, dynamics is the keyword to explain the interaction of this empathetic group. Sirkis' playing is especially impressive, capable of turning on a dime from the abstract "Still Life" to the full-fledged drum attack of the fast-paced title track.
The trio plays with forms and texture and is able to bring the sound of Law's compositions into unknown territory while still keeping the emotional depth and melodic sensitivity that lies at the heart of his writing.
It would be no exaggeration to say that John Law has entered a high-water mark in completing his tetralogy, of which Congregation: The Art of Sound Volume 4 could be considered the crown jewel. It's an achievement, not only for Law, but British jazz in general, that he is able to hold his own against such contemporaries as Brad Mehldau, Enrico Pieranunzi and Marc Copland.
Personnel: John Law: piano; Sam Burgess: double bass; Asaf Sirkis: drums.