John Law started classical piano aged four and performed first in public at six. After winning an Open Scholarship he studied piano and composition at the Royal Academy of Music, London, where he won prizes for piano playing. Despite then winning an Austrian government scholarship to study in Vienna with the pianist Badura-Skoda, and receiving encouragement from an early classical influence, pianist Alfred Brendel, he turned to jazz in 1986, forming his first group ATLAS, a mainly freely-improvising trio, with Paul Rogers, bass and Mark Sanders, drums.
From 1986 to 1996 John concentrated more on the experimental end of jazz, particularly in his association with the South African drummer Louis Moholo, with the Jon Lloyd Quartet and with his own quartet. The John Law/Louis Moholo Duo recorded the highly praised CD The Boat Is Sinking, Apartheid Is Sinking (Impetus 19322), appeared on British radio and toured extensively in the UK, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France and Canada, appearing at many major festivals. The Jon Lloyd Quartet appeared on British radio, toured the UK opposite Bill Frisell, made three acclaimed CDs, the last for Hat Hut called By Confusion, and played at festivals, including the 1995 FMP Festival, Berlin. With his own small groups John recorded and toured in the UK, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Italy, Russia, Lithuania and Belarus, including many festivals. A later quartet, formed 1993, with Paul Dunmall (saxophones), Barry Guy (double bass) and Louis Moholo, called Extremely Quartet, toured the UK and appeared at the 1998 Nickelsdorf Festival, Austria. They released the CD Extremely Quartet (Hat Hut CD6199) in 1997. John was also involved occasionally during this period with the Evan Parker Quartet. One-off collaborations also included playing, writing for and recording with the Dedication Orchestra and a London Festival concert in a septet with David Murray and Chico Freeman.
While John Law was exploring the more radical and freely improvised areas of jazz he also began a series of solo CDs which were to lead him back to an exploration of his classical roots. The four-CD series Chants, Cornucopia CRCDS01 (Talitha Cumi, 1994, FMR CD06, Pentecost, 1996, FMR CD027, The Hours, 1997, FMR CD40 and Thanatos CRCD04) was based on plainchant and, as well as jazz, explored the history and techniques associated with classical piano as well as introducing certain harmonic elements derived from early and mediaeval music. The CDs received outstanding reviews around the world. Concentrating on this music, John gave concerts in the UK in concert halls, churches and universities, and appeared at major festivals in London, Le Mans and Clusone.
From 1996, moving away from the freer end of jazz, John Law began to be more involved with straighter jazz and composition. He formed a trio with Tim Wells (bass) and Paul Clarvis (drums). This group recorded four critically-acclaimed CDs, one of them, The Onliest, exploring the music of Thelonious Monk. They toured the UK and appeared at festivals in England and France. Later, the drummer Dave Wickins came into the trio and this group gave concerts in the UK and Germany.
In 2000 John created the project Abacus, featuring US drummer Gerry Hemingway and, with Jon Lloyd and Tim Wells also included, this group became the continuation of the Jon Lloyd Quartet, performing both John Law's more radical compositions as well as material by Jon Lloyd. This quartet recorded the acclaimed CD Abacus (hatOLOGY567) which received two awards from the French magazine Jazzman, one awarded for the whole year 2001. The group toured the UK in 2000, appearing at the Bath International Festival. In 2001, continuing to develop his own approach to the jazz language, John Law formed a quartet, adding to his trio the British saxophonist Tim Garland. The quartet recorded the outstandingly reviewed CD The Moment (CRCD06) and toured the UK in 2001. With his trio (with Dave Wickins and now Alec Dankworth on bass) and with featured soloists (Julian Siegel, Martin Speake, Julian Nicholas) John Law undertook, in 2002, the Monk 'n' Junk Tour in the UK, contrasting the compositions of Thelonious Monk with the standard repertoire. A CD of this material appeared on the label ASC in 2006.
2002/3 saw John working in two completely different areas. Returning to more radical, open music, John started a collaboration with the German drummer Klaus Kugel, appearing together at the International Vilnius Festival with the Lithuanian soprano saxophonist Petras Vysniauskas in a triumphant concert to a packed Vilnius Philharmonic Hall and later touring the UK with him in a European quintet including Jon Lloyd and the bass clarinettist Michel Pilz, as well as appearing with him in a quartet at the Portuguese festival in Coimbra. At the same time, moving in the opposite direction into more accessible territory, John worked in two new duos: Songs, with the alto saxophonist Martin Speake, exploring some of their favourite compositions by other people, including arrangements of classical pieces by Ravel, Tchaikovsky and Mahler and in a two piano duo with the pianist Jason Rebello, opening their concerts with Bach and closing with Ravel's Bolero.
2004 started with John performing Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue to a sell out audience at the Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford on Avon and performing in Vienna with the Austrian vibraphone player and composer (and principal percussionist of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra) Flip Philipp. In June John performed, in a trio with Jon Lloyd, Law's large composed and improvised piece South, to accompany a Frome Festival performance of the epic 1914 black and white silent film of the same name. Later that year saw two major projects: John Law's European Quartet UK tour In Extremis, with Tim Wells and featuring, from France, François Corneloup (baritone and soprano saxophones) and Eric Échampard (drums), including a performance at the Bath Festival and for Radio Three and, in the autumn, the culmination of several years' work and planning: a 12-piece ensemble called Cornucopia, presenting the classical/jazz crossover project Out Of The Darkness. This UK tour, funded by a major Arts Council Touring Grant, featured a quartet of John, Andy Sheppard (saxophones), Chris Laurence (bass) and Paul Clarvis (drums) within a classical ensemble of eight instrumentalists, including some from the London Sinfonietta and the tour featured new works by John Law, including a major new work: Out Of The Darkness. Music from this tour appeared in 2006 on the label Slam. In 2005, following on from their Vienna concert in 2004, John organised the UK tour Monk And Beyond for an Anglo Austrian quartet with Flip Philipp, the Austrian drummer Christian Salfellner and the British bass player Dave Goodier. The music contrasted Monk-inspired compositions by Flip and John with performances of classic Monk tunes. At the end of 2005 John Law and Jon Lloyd began the duo project Mimesis, recording the CD Mimesis - 10 Choreographies for Soprano Saxophone and Piano, which appeared on ASC in 2006. John also completed, in December 2005, his classical performance diploma in piano, gaining distinction.
February 2006 saw the start of an important new project: the John Law/Sam Burgess/Asaf Sirkis trio The Art of Sound. John began working with Asaf (drums) and Sam (bass) in 2005. In 2006 they recorded, at the Italian studio Artesuono, their first CD: The Art Of Sound Volume 1, which appeared in May 2007 on 33 Records. In November 2007 John was commissioned to compose and perform a large-scale work to accompany the silent film classic The Last Laugh by F.W. Murnau, for the Bath Film Festival. In 2008 John was awarded a large Arts Council touring grant to tour this project nationally in 2008/09, performing with Jon Lloyd (soprano saxophone/bass clarinet) and the classical percussionist Jeremy Little. In 2008 John was made Artist-in-Residence at Essex University, for 2008/09 starting there with a solo concert. He further developed his solo piano playing with two solo CD releases, The Ghost in the Oak and Chorale, volumes 2 and 3 in the Art of Sound series, for 33 Records, recorded in October 2007 and released in 2008. Later that year saw the Arts Council supported Last Laugh silent film tour. 2009 was a period of continued development with the trio, with extensive touring nationally in the UK, including a London Ronnie Scotts debut, and abroad, where the trio appeared at the international Vilnius Festival. In this year the trio released the milestone, critically-lauded CD Congregation, The Art of Sound Volume 4, finishing off the four CD series all recorded at the Italian studio Artesuono. This CD had the first beginnings of added subtle effects in the instruments which was to be a later feature of the trio.
2010 was an important year for John’s trio. There was a change in the bass position, with the astonishing bass virtuoso Yuri Goloubev taking over from Sam Burgess. This trio made their debut at Amsterdam’s famous Bimhuis in April. Further trio tours in the UK followed, with a European tour (this time with Tom Farmer, from the British band Empirical, on bass) in September, culminating in an appearance at the Saarbrücken Jazz Festival, a concert that was recorded live on German radio. Also, in this year, John joined Jon Lloyd’s new quintet project, touring nationally and he made the two piano recording This is, with his (at that time) pupil Mark Pringle. At the end of this year John started his Opt project, a flexible pool of trio members playing his versions of other peoples tunes, including, alongside jazz standards, new versions of tunes by Sting, the Beatles, Nick Drake and others.
2011 was to prove vital for the development of John Law’s trio: three extended European tours, a first appearance at the prestigious North Sea Jazz Festival and a specially commissioned studio set, and interview, for Radio 3, UK. The latter session eventually became a new CD release, in early 2012, on 33 Jazz: Three Leaps of the Gazelle. This year also saw the development of further extensions to the sound palette of the trio, with the addition of glockenspiel and hang drum to the drums and development of use of keyboards and iPod effects to the piano. During this time, with the establishment of Yuri Goloubev in the bass role, the trio changed its name to Congregation. Later that year, continuing his work in the two piano format, John performed in the International Two Piano Festival, appearing to stunning audience acclaim at St. George's Hall Bristol, with Mercury nominee Gwilym Simcock.
The year 2012 saw an ever increasing touring schedule for the trio and also, with the sensationally received release of his CD This is, with rising star Mark Pringle, John toured the two piano project nationally, opening in London for Gwilym Simcock and Yaron Herman at the Pizza Express Steinway Piano Festival. 2012 also saw the start of a totally new project: the Three Ways trio, with Yuri Goloubev and Julian Argüelles (soprano/tenor saxophones). Partly influenced by the increasing unavailability of Asaf, due to commitments with the ACT recorded Lighthouse trio, as well as influenced by a desire to connect with both his own classical past, as well as a shared history with Yuri, John conceived this trio as a bridge between classical and jazz musics, arranging several classical pieces as well as writing several original new works for the trio. The group made its debut in the July Frome Festival and toured, later in the autumn, in the UK.
Photo: Melanie Day