John Law: Deeper into the Music
Then there's the element of spontaneity. Funnily enough I try and achieve, with my improvising, a feeling that it's sort of almost been composed beforehand, and with my compositions, the idea that they're made up on the spot. I don't always try for this but it's somewhere at the back of my mind. Because, on the one hand I truly believe that only through real time composition can one achieve some of the most amazing results in music, in terms of perfect form and in terms of matching the atmosphere with something totally appropriate. But on the other hand, I'm very conscious of the fact that when improvising's lost its way and is meandering, then it's suddenly the very poor relative of written music. In times like those I'd sort of rather be playing something I know is really beautiful and works.. <> You asked about how I see a link between mainstream and avant-garde. I don't really do these distinctions. I leave that up to critics! I think most critics would be hard pressed to accurately describe what they mean by these terms. And certainly not in technical terms that a musician would agree with. When people start using the term avant-garde it sort of winds me up. My stock response is how much more avant-garde can you get than a piece by Nam June Paik, which involves the performer crawling inside the vagina of a live whale!
Abacus Quartet (l:r): John Law, Jon Lloyd, Tim Wells, Gerry Hemingway
I play the piano. That's quite an old instrument, isn't it? I use harmonies.
I'll leave it up to other people to use labels.
AAJ: You have worked in many different constellations, both as a sideman and as a leader. Is there anyone in particular who has influenced your own playing and, if so, in what way?
JL: Not sure if you mean musicians I have played with who have influenced me or just generally pianists or instrumentalists I've listened to...
Regarding the latter I have a policy of never saying which pianists I consider my main influences. Firstly I sort of think it's probably quite obvious, mostly. Secondly, I like to think that's your job... I'm not going to make it easier for you! I enjoy seeing writers name influences just from what they hear, from examples like the very first write up I had (in the Wire Magazine) where the guy said I was obviously influenced by a certain pianist whom I hadn't actually ever heard up to that point (!) right up to where they actually get it spot on.
This policy came about many years ago, with the very first CD I was on, Syzygy (Leo, 1990), by Jon Lloyd. Every review raved about my playing. Except one. That was a French guy whom I sent the CD to, with a letter saying something like I didn't think I played that well on it but hoped he liked it sort of thing. The result was he said, in his review that I sounded, on the CD, ill at ease. I was sure that was because of what I'd said! I decided, from then on, never to do critics' homework for them.
So all I say is I've listened to everybody.
But I will say this about my trio. I'm trying to do something very wide-ranging. The fact is I really like lots of different music and different current piano trios. And I would say that, apart from some very obvious pianists whose influence anyone can hear in my playing (like I said, I won't name them!) there are three trios that are very, very different from each other that have all influenced my composing for the Art of Sound trio. They're what I would call my Holy Trinity of piano trio stylists. In no particular order: Esbjorn Svensson Trio, Tord Gustavsen and The Bad Plus. They all sound so different. And they hardly overlap in territory at all. Yet I like them all. Work that one out; for me, these three seem to cover most, if not all, of the areas I'm interested in.
People I've played with who have influenced me forever: well firstly the two guys in my trio, Sam Burgess and Asaf Sirkis, are a constant source of inspiration. Really, when I play with them I just hope, in my heart, to play to my satisfaction so that I feel worthy enough to be on the same bandstand as them. That's how high I rate them.
Other than them I would have to say that the following five musicians I've worked with have left an indelible imprint on my sound-world: Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Tim Garland, Jason Rebello and Jon Lloyd.
And, if this isn't backtracking on my saying I wouldn't tell you all my influences, I listen absolutely loads to the new generation in the UK. Younger people give you such a buzz. There are things they do that older, supposed-to-be-wiser people just haven't got. The main guys for me are these pianist/composers: Tom Cawley, Gwilym Simcock and Robert Mitchell.
AAJ: So how do you judge the climate of jazz to be in Great Britain at the moment? And how do you see the relationship between the European and American jazz tradition?