Ant Law Quintet zero in at The Verdict, Brighton

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It’s been a scant 18 months since Ant Law played this venue to a handful of rapt guitar enthusiasts, and the intervening time has been fruitfully employed; he’s published a book, released an album (Zero Sum World) with pianist du jour Ivo Neame that’s on display in the Whirlwind catalogue alongside the latter’s own release, and can list Tim Garland, Jason Rebello and Trio HSK among recent collaborators. Yet the extra efforts put in by The Verdict to promote this decently attended show demonstrate how hard it can be to transmute respect from one’s peers into the gold of commercial success, especially for artists who are forward-looking but hard to categorise.

The band toured Zero Sum World earlier in the year, and for this extra date Law has recruited Tom Hewson and Andrea DiBiase in place of Neame and bassist Tom Farmer, and included material from his earlier release. Opener ‘Waltz’ starts with a delicately picked mix of extended chords and harmonics, creating a contemplative mood reminiscent of Mick Goodrick’s work for ECM; follow-up ‘Mishra Jhati’ demonstrates Law’s explorations in elaborate rhythmic structures. His solos deliberately eschew any familiar licks, displaying a tough idiosyncratic logic and a clear articulation that allows the complex ideas to shine out, though when he switches on his overdrive pedal, the sound curiously becomes less distinctive.

If there’s a recognisable debt, it would be to Kurt Rosenwinkel’s clean-toned sophistication. Law’s take on jazz shares many of the characteristics of fusion – the virtuoso intensity, the long intricate unison lines, the tightly arranged rhythm parts – but mellows the format by adopting a what could be a classic bebop line-up in place of a full-on electric assault. Andrea DiBiase is impressive on double bass, fast in the upper register and with a deep rich tone; Hewson is a little low in the mix but adds some beautifully realised solo work. His more textural moments provide a respite from the torrents of notes from Law and the effortlessly fluent Mike Chillingworth on alto and bass clarinet. James Maddren on drums is superb throughout; joyous, sensitive, lively and swinging even in the most difficult subdivisions, he brings a thrilling grasp of dynamics and a profound musicality that makes sense of the challenging twists and turns of the compositions.

The title track ‘Zero Sum World’ is reminiscent of Frank Zappa in its labyrinthine unison statement, and as emotionally inscrutable. This is an outstanding band playing an impressive set of compositions, and Law certainly has the capabilities to navigate a fascinating musical journey; the challenge will perhaps be to find how many of the audience he can persuade to come with him.

– Eddie Myer