THE VORTEX, London — We’re talking solos that leave the audience slack-jawed in amazement, only to quickly recover and roar with applause.
The Ant Law Quintet is awesome together and but monstrously mind-boggling in their solos.
When I got to the Vortex, one of Downbeat magazine’s top 150 jazz venues in the world, a flea could not have found a seat, and for good reason. Ant Law and his quintet turned out to be unworldly proficient and movingly intense.
The best jazz clubs are those where the patrons come to listen and appreciate the artistry of the musicians. The Vortex is one of those very special places.
Once Ant started playing, no one inside the packed room made a sound. And when a piece was ending, they waited until the last note sounded before breaking out into wild applause.
Ant got it started quietly, picking out a tune and then going on fantastic riffs that left the audience stunned. As each member of his quintet took their turns, the crowd was enraptured, only periodically breaking their silence with hoots of amazement and appreciation.
And there was a lot of musical artistry to appreciate.
“It’s very abstract, complex music we’re playing, isn’t it?” Ant told me after the show. “We’re painting with smudgy colors, sometimes we’re painting with a broad strokes, impressionistic, whatever. So it’s not easy just to say I’m feeling joy or something like that. Maybe joy does come into it, but it’s dense, it can be very jumbled, and yet there’s a lot of form within the jumbleness. Maybe it’s a symptom of us living in London or living busy lives, and I think that comes out in the music, so I suppose I’m feeling busy and I’m feeling jumbled but at the same time I’m feeling some kind of clarity and some kind of thread.”
For the solos, each member of the quintet played with passion, so much so that there were several times when it appeared the musician might not come out of the solo at all.
One time in particular, pianist Ivo Neame was on a roll, so deeply into his music that he didn’t notice that the other members of the band clearly thought he was about to wrap it up. I don’t know where the Ivo’s head was, but it wasn’t in a place where he could pick up on his colleagues’ visual clues.
“Actually, I got completely lost on one tune,” he told me after the show. “That was nice. Sometimes it can be a bit dangerous, but it can be good. You just have to take the risk, and screw up, a bit. Sometimes that happens, and sometimes it doesn’t.” (The picture below shows Ant kneeling while Ivo “gets lost” during that solo.)
If you have a chance to catch these guys, definitely jump at it.
THE BAND: Here is Ant Law’s website. Here is his Twitter feed. Here is a collection of videos of Ant on YouTube. And here is an interview with Ant in London Jazz News. It’s “an exciting band to hear live,” according to John Fordham of The Guardian.
The members: Ant Law (Guitar); Mike Chillingworth (Sax); Ivo Neame (Piano); Tom Farmer (Bass); and James Maddren (Drums)
THE VENUE: The Vortex, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ (the Dalston/Hackney area). Click here for a map. Click here for their website.
THE VIBE: The Vortex is the real McCoy, one of the few “listening clubs” in London (and the world, for that matter) where serious jazz fans come to listen. Like the audience at the A-Trane (sic) in Berlin, this audience stops talking when the musicians start playing. The doorman and bartenders are extraordinarily polite, which, in a crowded jazz club, is extraordinary. The bartenders actually refused a tip! I was not surprised to learn later that it is a 25-year-old, nonprofit, volunteer-led club where jazz lovers gather. I was seated at a table where a couple was already sitting, but they not only welcomed me, they also engaged me in a delightful chat.
THE COVER: As a nonprofit, they try to keep the cover costs down. On the night I went, it was ten pounds, a bargain given the quality of the entertainment. And there was no drink minimum!
THE DRINKS: The bartenders were surprisingly willing to talk about my beer choices rather than rushing me to make one. Excellent selection.
— John Wilpers, May 11, 2016