Artist: John Law

Date of Release: 01/01/2001

Catalogue no: CRCDS01

Label: Cornucopia

Price: £32

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Track Listing










John Law: solo piano (church organ on Thanatos, track 3)

CD 1 Talitha Cumi

CD 2 Pentecost

CD 3 The Hours

CD 4 Thanatos

A massive achievement in the world of improvised piano music, the Chants series catalogues John Law's fascination with early music and plainchant in the 1990s. The four CD's are (chronologically): Talitha Cumi, Pentecost, The Hours and Thanatos. Wide-ranging in pianism and textures, the continuous inspiration is kept up throughout four CDs, which explore everything from straight plainchant, via classical and jazz, through to the contemporary sounds of the 20th century. Two of the four recordings are taken from concert performances with all the excitement only achieved by a live event. Three of the four CD booklets also feature specially commissioned illustrations by the artist Mel Day.

PLEASE NOTE Thanatos IS A CD-R AND NOT FROM A GLASS MASTER!. I have never had any issues with the quality of this CD or any problems with it not playing. It's just like a normal CD.




01/09/1997 Chris Parker, The Times

"The third recording in a series of piano meditations sparked off by John Law's interest in early monastic music. The Hours takes material from the Liber Usualis as its starting point.

After briefly stating each of the eight plainchant "themes", Law subjects them to sometimes surprisingly robust but consistently graceful and mellifluous treatments, imbued with the disciplined vigour that is the most obvious legacy of his immersion over the past few years in free jazz.

Added to his recent acclaimed trio of albums of Thelonious Monk interpretations and idiosyncratic visits to standards, Law's three solo piano plainchant albums confirm his reputation as one of this country's most imaginative young pianists."


01/09/1996 John Eyles, Rubberneck magazine

John Law's Pentecost is the second in a series of three solo piano recitals, which began with the intriguing Talitha Cumi in 1994. Recorded in concert, it features one long (51 minutes) piece plus a short encore. The long piece, entitled 'Spirit Music For Pentecost', displays Law's current fascination with mediaeval music, particularly religious music. An improvisation based on early monastic music, it begins simply and establishes a mood of tranquility. It then sets up an ebb and flow of tension throughout, ending in a thunderous finale. For me, Law has become one of a select group of musicians (Ornette, Lacy, Evan Parker, Giuffre, Frisell...) whose every release brings a tingle of expectation. This release heightens anticipation of the next!


01/11/1995 Cadence magazine, New York

Listeners are likely to find pianist John Law's latest recording either mesmerising or stultifying - it's not a work meant to elicit lukewarm reactions.

Many Cadence readers may be familiar with Law via his work with Evan Parker, Jon Lloyd and Louis Moholo. (Law has also been leading his own quartet for years.) But the depth and breadth of Law's background in classical piano may not be as well known, and as it informs this disc, just as much as his work in the free jazz scene, it's worth noting. Law began his musical studies with his mother, attended the Royal Academy of Music and later studied with the renowned classical pianist Paul Badura-Skoda. Although Law chose to depart from the classical world as a performer, it has never departed from his playing or his musical conceptions. In other words, he's a player who knows how to fuse different traditions and come up with music that is all the richer and more rewarding because of its 'hybrid' background.

Talitha Cumi is, as stated in the full title, a group of improvisations centred around a 13th century version of the “Dies Irae”, the “Day of Wrath” segment of the Requiem Mass. (The first part of the album title is taken from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 5, verses 38-42, which recounts Jesus' resurrection of a young girl. All of the Gospels are written in Greek, and the phrase “talitha cumi” - meaning “Little girl I say to thee, arise” - is in Aramaic, the common language of first-century A.D. Palestine - a particularly homespun touch that is found nowhere else in the Gospels.) That is the solemnity of the “Dies Irae” that pervades this recording, not the joy over the raising of the dead child.

Although Law says that he didn't end up producing a set of variations on the main theme of the “Dies Irae”, there is common thematic material running throughout all of the "Meditations" (the “Interludes” are Law's way of giving the listener a break from the unremitting intensity of the “Meditations”). On the whole, Law succeeds very well in what he intended to do. Although these compositions don't swing per se, this is creative music at a level not often heard - Law's improvisational strategies, formidable technique and ability to conceptualise an extended improv as an organic whole are far removed from the self-indulgent meanderings of many practitioners of free improvisation on the piano.

Law's playing throughout Talitha Cumi is sonorous, full of rhythmic drive, strong percussive accents and unexpected surprises and shifts in direction - no stasis here! Since his jumping-off point is a modal composition, he improvises both modally and chromatically, and does so in a seamless fashion. The pieces are full of emotion, but “mood music” this isn't - any more than the full range of the Western canon (and bebop and beyond) are, for the most part, “mood music”, (moody music, yes, but that's light years away from treacly New Age piano ramblings or poor performances of Beethoven's piano sonatas). There are some decided links to John Cage's works for prepared piano here - Law's judicious use of techniques such as string damping and scraping (as well as remarkably effective pedalling) enable him to create sounds similar to those on prepared pianos. (Meditation 2 and Meditation 6 are replete with provocative sonic and emotional contrasts due to Law's manipulation of the entire piano.)

The recorded sound on Talitha Cumi is particularly fine. Law played a Steinway concert grand for the session and hired Simon Rhodes, a seasoned classical recording engineer, to oversee the taping. The result is, well, grand - Rhodes was able to catch a lot of nuances of the piano's sound that many other engineers would have missed or ignored altogether.

As stated above, there is no middle ground where this CD is concerned. But if you want to treat yourself to something entirely new (or if you already know the territory and want a fine guide to take you on yet another excursion) you could scarcely do better than delve into Law's highly impassioned work. One disc like this isn't enough to satisfy my taste for Law's playing - here's hoping he can get back into the studio for another solo album before long so that those who want to take up the challenge presented by his music have even more opportunity to do so.


01/08/1995 Thomas Woertche, Jazz Podium, Germany

Das “Dies Irae” bekanntlich liturgischer Bestandteil der roemischen Totenmesse und seit dem 13. Jahrhundert melodisch fixiert, von Mozart bis Verdi immer wieder in Requiems verarbeitet, von Berlioz, Liszt, Rachmaninov immer wieder zitathaft eingesetzt und insofern mit betraechtlichem kommunikativem Potential auegestattet, dient hier dem britischen Pianisten John Law als Rohmaterial fuer sogenannte “Meditationen”. Dabei setzt der einerseits bei Paul Badura-Skoda klassisch ausgebildete, andererseits durch die Zusammenarbeit mit Evan Parker und Louis Moholo in Free Music erfahrene Law diese beiden musikalischen Grundorientierungen in ein produktives Spannungsverhaeltnis: Das “Dies Irae” bleibt als strukturierendes Element immer vorhanden, ist Ausgangspunkt fuer Improvisationen, die bis zu schieren Kontrapunktik einerseits, zu donnernden Clustern andererseits gehen koennen. Law nutzt mit Wollust das Volumen seines grossen Steinway, vor allem dessen Basspotential. Eine duestere “Dies Irae”-Atmosphaere kann ich entgegen seinen eigenen Ausfuehrungen im Booklet nirgends hoeren; es sei denn, niedrige Notenwerte waeren automatisch mit “Totenmesse” etc. zu konnotieren. Im Gegenteil: Laws “Dies Irae” ist eine lebensspruehende, virtuose improvisatorische Tour de force durch die Moeglichkeit eines erstklassigen Fluegels.


01/04/1995 Markus Mueller, Jazzthetik, Germany

John Laws Ausgangsmaterial ist dagegen ein klassischer Haushaltsartikel, das Dies Irae hat jeder in irgendeiner Form im Schrank. Jedoch nicht in der hier vorliegenden Form. John Law duerfte hierzulande eher unbekannt sein. Er ist klassisch ausgebildet, hat 1989 mit Paul Rogers und Mark Sanders seine erste Gruppe, Atlas, gegruendet, im Evan Parker Quartet, dem Louis Moholo Dedication Orchestra, einem Quartet mit Moholo, Barry Guy und Paul Dunmall, und nicht zuletzt mit dem Jon Lloyd Quartet gespielt.

Talitha Cumi ist ein pianistisches Meisterstueck. Der thematische Bogen traegt dunkle, ausgesprochen erzaehlerische Improvisationen, die in stupender und praeziser Technik scharf gestochen sind. Irgendwer hat mal gesagt, John Law klaenge wie Keith Tippett on acid. Wirklich erstaunlich ist allerdings, dass es John Law gelungen ist, neben Georg Graewe, Marylin Crispell, Irene Schweizer, Cecil Taylor, Chris Burn, Alexander von Schlippenbach (und einigen anderen) eini distinkte Stimme zu entwickeln. Wenn er mall eine CD fuer ECM aufnimmt wird er Star.


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