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John Law: Deeper into the Music

By Published: November 4, 2009

John LawAAJ: How did the Art of Sound Trio come about? What were your visions for the project? Could you describe your working relationship with Sam Burgess and Asaf Sirkis and the process of recording the project?

JL: The trio with Sam and Asaf started off as one idea and has been gradually taking on other characteristics since then.

Basically I started the trio, back in 2005, as part of my on-going attempts to try and actually learn to sound and play more like a jazz pianist. But I always wanted a highly interactive trio, with everyone contributing and capable of going different ways. And that's gradually become ever more important. So whatever I was thinking when I first approached the guys to play trio with me, it's now become a group where we really try and do all aspects of contemporary trio playing. Extreme dynamics, mixing influences from classical, jazz and now even some rock influences. I'm gradually adding some more sounds as well. Slight distortion and delay effects on piano and bass. And I've got a number of toys I use: two (yes, two) kids' DJ toys, two Buddha machines (great little toy with nine in-built drones and a pitch altering capability, so I can phase them in and out) a dub siren module oscillator (which does whacky siren effects which I can alter live) and I also use live talk radio on one tune. I'm not exactly sure whether I've gone too far in this area and I'm going to rein it all in, whether I'm going to add something more or whether I'm going to stick with this.

The percussion side is also changing. Already a year ago I emailed Asaf and asked him whether he would like to play glockenspiel. He said he would learn it for me. And so we added that to Asaf's kit. He is also going to incorporate the Hang (which he plays with Tim Garland's Lighthouse project) and the darbuka into the trio. And then maybe just a small xylophone (a sort of kids' one, not a massive orchestral one, which he has however played with me). I think that'll be it.

I first played with Asaf back in 2005. I fell in love with his sound straight away. His accompanying is ultra sensitive and his solos have, for me, redefined the way I've listened to drums. Sam came into the trio shortly after that. His immense strengths are that he is awesome on first tempos, swings like crazy and no-one can touch him on a ballad. He's remarkably eloquent. Sometimes to the point that I want to cry.

It's a very democratic group, musically. We all have input into arrangements, even though we only play my tunes. I just feel I can learn so much from these two musicians that I feel very humble working with them.

Recording the recent CD Congregation was a mammoth achievement. We recorded so much music! In just two days. We all worked really hard. The studio is called Artesuono, from which I took the group's name and also the name of all four Art of Sound recordings, volumes 1 and 4 being trio and 2 and 3 solo. The two solo recordings I recorded in just two days, in October 2007. Many of the compositions on these two solo recordings are also recorded by the trio, which gives rise to the possibility of comparing solo and trio versions.

AAJ: Some of the compositions come with dedications. Could you expand on the story behind some of them?

JL: Three of my compositions in the Art of Sound series are dedicated to musicians. "Twist" is dedicated to an Austrian vibes player and composer Friedrich Philipp-Pesendorfer (known as Flip Philipp) who plays for the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and writes very Monk-influenced, tricky compositions. I did a bit of touring with him and ripped off the feel of one of his tunes, which he called first "Let's Twist" and then later simply "Let's." (By the way, I often acknowledge a debt to some other composition which influenced me writing one of mine, by hiding a link to the other composition in the title I give my tune. Even without any dedication. I try and leave a thread for later detective work!) The tune "Method in My Madness" was partly stolen (though I would say also improved in the process) from a tune by Jon Lloyd called simply "Method."

John Law The Art of Sound Trio (l:r): Asaf Sirkis, Sam Burgess, John Law

The composition "Watching, Waiting..." is inspired generally by the music of Tom Cawley

Tom Cawley
Tom Cawley
. Tom's a wonderful composer and pianist. When I first heard some of his compositions I felt really down and wanted to give up. I felt I would never ever be able to write as beautifully as some of his stuff.

But in the end I did what I always do, I tried instead to incorporate some of his magic and make it my own.

The two compositions on Chorale: The Art of Sound, Volume 3 which are dedicated to Stephen are very personal statements. They're in memory of a younger brother of mine who died in 2006. A really dreadful time. One of the pieces, called simply "?" I just sat down and played pretty much the way I then wrote it out.

AAJ: What are your plans for the future?

John Law

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