The classically trained British pianist John Law had moved from a predominantly free-improv agenda to something like Brad Mehldau's hypnotically grooving lyricism by this trio's debut in 2006, but the finale to his four-part Art of Sound series is very different, and buzzing with surprises. The lyricism remains, but Law has added a more rugged funkiness, with acoustic bassist Sam Burgess sometimes deploying growling distortion effects as Dan Berglund did with EST, and Asaf Sirkis sounding creatively freer and more dramatically inventive than ever on drums.
The romantic, tidally rolling The Ghost in the Oak quickly gives way to an earthier funky drive on the title track, uptempo swingers highlight both Law's cool precision of line and Burgess's unwavering walk, and delicate baroque-jazz features such as Still Life and Three Part Invention display the pianist's free-flowing spontaneity with classical materials. Sirkis is majestic on the fuzz-bass Trap Clap and in a long exchange with the piano riff on Method In My Madness, and the closing Chorale starts as a soft meditation and grows into an understated Latin shuffle. An ideal set both for Law's fans, and anyone wanting an accessible introduction to this formidably equipped artist.
John Fordham, The Guardian June 2009
Reminiscent of Don Pullen's Ode to Life, or a Keith Jarrett ballad without the grunting, "Chorale", the final, astounding track on this second album by pianist John Law's co-op trio, is a work of real grace and beauty. The gentle counterpoint of its baroque structure leads to a wonderfully affirmative Latin coda. More varied in feel and tempo than its predecessor, and therefore perhaps slightly less satisfying as a whole, Congregation remains a startlingly good album by a remarkable group.
Phil Johnson, The Independent on Sunday July 2009
In music, the material of the artist is sound. Music is the shaping of sound. It's no coincidence, then, that British pianist John Law has named his ambitious tetralogy The Art of Sound. The final installment, Congregation: The Art of Sound Volume 4, finds Law working with the same trio -- bassist Sam Burgess and drummer Asaf Sirkis -- as he did on the very first release in the series, The Art of Sound (33 Jazz, 2007).
One of the advantages of the series is that it changes between solo recitations and group work, while still working with a core repertoire. Thus, it's possible to compare different versions of the same composition.
For instance, the haunting ballad "The Ghost in the Oak," written for ECM founder Manfred Eicher, originally premiered on The Ghost in the Oak: The Art of Sound Volume 2 (33 Jazz, 2008), but resurfaces here with Law introducing the theme using sparkling arpeggios, before the autumnal bow of Burgess' bass enters and Sirkis' sticks rustles in the background like leaves falling gently from a tree.
Throughout, Laws classical training is heard in his use of contrapuntal technique -- as on the Bach-influenced "Three Part Invention," but it's his romantic temperament that comes most to the fore in the wide use of emotional dynamics. On the whole, dynamics is the keyword to explain the interaction of this empathetic group. Sirkis' playing is especially impressive, capable of turning on a dime from the abstract "Still Life" to the full-fledged drum attack of the fast-paced title track.
The trio plays with forms and texture and is able to bring the sound of Law's compositions into unknown territory while still keeping the emotional depth and melodic sensitivity that lies at the heart of his writing.
It would be no exaggeration to say that John Law has entered a high-water mark in completing his tetralogy, of which Congregation: The Art of Sound Volume 4 could be considered the crown jewel. It's an achievement, not only for Law, but British jazz in general, that he is able to hold his own against such contemporaries as Brad Mehldau, Enrico Pieranunzi and Marc Copland.
Jakob Baekgaard, All About Jazz August 2009