Q&A: Ant Law
The UK based guitarist Ant Law is one reason to get excited about when it comes to jazz guitar. Ant is a refreshing, exhilarating and innovative player who has been active on the scene for many years playing with a variety of eclectic artists while also leading his own critically acclaimed band featuring Michael Chillingworth, James Maddren, Tom Farmer and Ivo Neame. The release of Ant’s third album Life I Know has received much praise as he continues his assent into the upper echelon of new voices on guitar.
(Jazz Online) What was your first recollection of jazz growing up?
(Ant Law) My Mum’s brother liked jazz. I have a vague memory of some swing dance going on with a live band at a family event. I remember hearing a band play “Cantaloupe Island” and thinking that first chord change was the best thing EVER. My parents had Kind Of Blue and some Trane but we mainly listened to blues.
What was the first jazz recording you ever purchased?
I bought about 5 cds at the same time – some Joe Pass and some Pat Metheny (The Road To You was in there).
Who are some of your main creative influences?
My peers in London are a big part of it – I learn and take inspiration from my bandmates and their music, as well as other people’s bands who I play in.
What is the best thing about playing jazz?
It’s the most real music you can get – it’s spontaneous and there is so much freedom.
How did you develop your sound and what has been your process evolving it?
It’s been really messy and non-linear! I started off playing rock, then got into the “guitar nerd” stuff. Eventually all my favourite bits in songs were the solos, so obviously I moved towards jazz. For many years I have listened to lots of classical music, mainly the impressionists. I have transcribed voicings from Ravel and Debussy pieces. I also listen a lots of Indian music, and as well as the rhythmic stuff I do sometimes incorporating tonalities from raga music. I also went through a very intense period of listening to Gnaoua music and went to the festival a couple of times, but I’m yet to reconcile and incorporate that into my own music. I had a CD of music from Burkina Faso which was amazing, I also like music form Cameroon. I learned lots of Scottish music when I lived there for six years. I always look back through the jazz canon – it is absolutely amazing what is there, and quite overwhelming how much of it there is. I always try to practice as much as possible. When I hear a sound I love, I always think “I want that” and usually can’t stop myself. I guess we accumulate all these things over time, we lose some things and gain others and never stay the same.
In terms of guitar heroes, who are a few of yours?
Ben Monder, his music has a purity and world all of it’s own. It’s very hard to pin down stylistically. He has a very unique harmonic approach that is far more evolved than most players, which to me sounds very new and exciting. He also uses the guitar in an incredibly textural way, check out “Still Motion” or “Windowpane” compared to “Orbits” compared to the ECM album Amorphae. There is such a huge range. My piece “The Act Itself” on Life I Know is a tribute to him. I also really like Kurt Rosenwinkel, I think the harmonic things going on in particular are amazing, also Lage Lund. Prior to that I was really inspired by Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, who do the Trane “sheets of sound” thing on guitar. I recently started really checking out Allan Holdsworth, in part because I had some concerts with Gary Husband and I wanted to hear him play more. People have been saying “you sound like Holdsworth” for years to me, because sometimes I play with distortion, but only recently have I really gone deep into it, transcribing and so on. In my much younger days, Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan were a huge inspiration – seeing them lead a guitar trio and do such compelling performances was significant.
What is your approach to using technology, effects, pedals?
I love the sound of acoustic instruments, which is why everyone in my band plays them. On Life I Know I allowed myself to be resourceful and use whatever effects and processing I felt like. Prior to this recording I took the approach of more of a purist, so I didn’t use any effects at all on my two previous albums. I guess I always try to consider the context and make everything work together – the sounds have to blend together. I always try to remain on the outside of the music, as a listener, if that makes any sense. So I have to be careful, for example, to not use too much reverb and dominate the whole frequency spectrum unless that’s something I am trying specifically to achieve (which is possible). I think to maintain interest over the course of an entire album is difficult, and in order to do so I try to vary the sonics and textures as much as possible. This goes for the arrangements as well as effects.
How would you describe your new recording Life I Know?
It’s a collection of things I have been working on over the past few years, my life and experiences reflected in music. When we meet new people and spend time with them, we begin to experience things through their eyes as well as our own, this is what lead to my bringing in Tim Garland and Asaf Sirkis, with whom I have spent a great deal of time over the last few years.
Your interpretation of the standard “Pure Imagination” is beautiful. What lead you to record the track and how did the arrangement and sonic treatment evolve?
I heard Jacob Collier’s version on YouTube – his is VERY different obviously but I wanted to learn the song after hearing it. I think the timing coincided with the arrival of some new guitar tech gadgets and my experimenting with them. I had this huge, ambient, delay & reverb sound and I moved the song into a strange key (strange for the song but not for my guitar). The only way it really worked was to significantly reduce the harmony. So most of the my version is all over a “tonic pedal”. I took out most of the chords. As always it’s nice to have a bit of contrast in the bridge/middle 8 so I disengaged the reverb and effects for the bridge and did a more traditional jazz guitar chord melody thing there. One thing I liked was that the huge elevated space created by the reverb allows lots of room for our own imagination when we listen to it – I tend to visualise something like when you look out of the window on a plane, down at the clouds or what it must feel like to be a bird soaring above everything. Honestly this actual arrangement came together in a few minutes, I nearly didn’t put it on the album because it seemed like it had been too easy – I hadn’t spent years developing the composition like I did with many of the other pieces. I’m glad I did include it though.
The track “Credit” from Life I Know is epic in its methodical rhythmic slow build and dynamic release. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind this tune?
I really like Julian Lage’s World’s Fair album, it has a big folky/rootsy sound. When I first listened I didn’t know it was going to be a solo guitar album. And in fact I didn’t even realise it was until it was finished – it sounded so complete, which I didn’t think was possible. In the past I would have been afraid to strum the guitar as I do in the final section, but no longer, not after this album! Also, I love Scottish music, and the guitar gets strummed often up there. Anyway, I found a little chord-thing that I liked the sound of, and expanded it outwards into a solo guitar piece, feeling bold after listening to Julia Lage. I had the finished solo guitar piece – and I hope to perform it live as a solo piece. BUT then the inevitable happened and I couldn’t keep myself from adding other instruments to make it bigger and more cinematic! From the first chord I titled it “Credits” because to me it had that euphoric feeling of release that one sometimes gets at the end of a film, as the credits roll, after a big reveal or whatever.
Name one recording that cannot live without.
Ben Monder’s Oceana, Bird with Strings, Louis and Ella, Giant Steps, Coltrane’s Sound, Blue Train, Imaginary Cities by Chris Potter, Satriani’s Crystal Planet… I could be here all day!
What is your favorite escape?
Scuba diving – there’s nothing more magical on this earth than breathing underwater and exploring that alien landscape!
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