This is an extremely elegant album. I don’t know why I am surprised at saying this. I suppose I thought that saxophonist Jon Lloyd, a musician who has spent his life exploring the boundaries of structure and freedom, would be challenging, in a negative sense. I was wrong. At Sherborne Jazz Club on 7 December, tempted out by the name ‘John Law’ I once more saw piano and fender rhodes in mutual support (the earlier occasion was Brad Mehldau at the Barbican). If I had been distracted by the pianist, then it took only a few minutes to realise that this is a very special group led by a very expressive, communicative and generous leader. The lineup on paper was breathtaking – Asaf Sirkis, Tom Farmer and Rob Palmer. Last minute changes of personnel saw Mark Whitlam and Joe Limburn replace the drummer and bass player respectively. They both had the gig of their lives, showing no signs of being replacements. They were sensitively supported and encouraged by Jon and John, allowed solos and the freedom of their illustrious forebears on the album. It was a memorable evening, serving as a reminder, if one were needed, that excellent, accessible and enjoyable jazz can be heard outside London, you just have to make an effort to get there. The experience of the evening was an accurate flavour of the album.
All nine compositions are gems. The exquisite X and Y opens the album with buoyant bubbling soprano sax. Even at its most penetrating, it has a warm, serene, caramel sound. The melody is pastoral, gentle, songlike. The lyricism of John Law is always heart stopping, such delicate shading, especially in Yaga where the piano could be a sitar. In 5678 I felt we were in square dance territory, where quick footwork was needed as the time signatures crossed, got jumbled and tripped each other up. It was fun! I thought ‘This isn’t free jazz, I can hum this (phew!)’ and I relaxed, and so became more receptive to the delicacies on offer: the symphonic, almost-classical opening to V Points where the piano solo, with gentle snowflake motif (a signature John Law effect), creates a mood of uneasiness echoed by the slowly burning guitar, the wary walk of the sax towards a guitar that howls, a sense of chaos and pain which gently fades. The thrum of fingers on piano wires. There are many strands in this music, you uncover them with repeated listening. It is harmonious and democratic, there is no need for extended solos, yet take any instrument away and you would miss it.
The video below, from June 2010 (and not on the album), is a wonderful taster of this very classy quintet, with slight changes of personnel. They deserve greater recognition for the beauty of the harmonies and melodies, the purity and serenity of the saxophone, the electronic subtleties, its modesty despite a starry lineup. The group tours in 2014, please go and see them! This group must not vanish.
Jon Lloyd Group: Vanishing Points
All compositions by Jon Lloyd except Improv (Lloyd/Farmer/Sirkis)
Jon Lloyd, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet
John Law, piano, fender rhodes
Rob Palmer, electric guitar
Tim Farmer, double bass
Asaf Sirkis, drums
Mary James 17 December 2013