Configuration, which was released on Ubuntu Music earlier this month, is the latest album by pianist John Law and his band, or project, Congregation. The Congregation project seems to have emerged from his solo album of the same name, which was released back in 2009. The title was resurrected as a band name in 2014 for an ambitious double album, These Skies In Which We Rust. The new album features a different line-up from the earlier album; the Roller Trio’s saxophonist, and occasional guitarist, James Mainwaring, classically-trained bass player, Ashley John Long, and drummer Billy Weir. Mainwaring and Law’s son Jasper Law added electronic effects to a few of the tracks, and mixing engineer Roshan ‘Tosh’ Wijetunge is also credited with helping to shape a few of the tunes at the production stage.
“Configuration…brings together so many different strands in my musical journey up till now,” reveals the band’s leader, “mixing together contemporary jazz, some elements from rock and electronics, with more than a hint of classical music in the aesthetic way in which the compositions are structured.”
In less capable hands, such a mix of styles may not have worked, but Law’s compositions meld these diverse elements to great effect.
Opener The Kiss sets the tone, with its opening electronics, from which a piano groove emerges, accompanied by a simple beat from drummer Billy Weir. Mainwaring’s saxophone eventually joins, before giving way to an acoustic piano solo by Law himself. A mesmerising start.
And Them is even better, with Law switching to electric piano, for the most part at least, and Mainwaring delivering some shimmering guitar lines. Law later adds acoustic piano to the mix, and the combination brought to mind some of the instrumental work by Supertramp, which can’t be bad.
Listen to And Them here:
The title track is a more upbeat affair, driven by Law’s pounding piano and a fine groove by Billy Weir. Mainwaring reverts to saxophone, and there are fine solos by both Long on bass and Law on piano.
Scandinavian Lullaby, as the title suggests, is a more ethereal composition, bringing to mind some of Jan Garbarek’s more recent compositions, and featuring some lovely playing by Mainwaring, whose simple lines float over the soundscape.
Processional is built on a piano groove and a cool beat from Weir, which provide a showcase for the bowed bass of Long, who’s classical training shines here. The title of Jazzshh… suggests Law’s tongue is planted firmly in cheek. A funky tune emerges from the opening audience noise, driven by Law himself, playing electric piano and the bass line and crisp drumming from Weir, before Mainwaring joins the fun on saxophone.
Disfigured Bass opens with an organ solo, which sounds like it could have come from an album by Deep Purple or Rainbow, but was actually from a performance of Bach’s “Organ Prelude in F minor” played by Massimo Pinarello. A more conventional jazz quartet, with saxophone, emerges, offering hints of the Bach opening, before building to a noisier prog-rock finale.
Through A Glass Darkly initially showcases Long’s bass, before giving way to a more electronic piece, which sounds like it might have been made a sci-fi movie soundtrack. Complex City has a fusion feel, sounds of traffic interspersing the grooves, before returning to the more rural, acoustic vibe of These Rolling Clouds.
Configuration is an unusual album, to the extent there’s no consistent feel to the overall sound, but it holds together surprisingly well, due to a combination of Law’s fascinating compositions, the fine musicianship on display and the underlying electronica, which help to bring it all together. Highly recommended.