‘Flint’ – Bill Laurance

Flint

OVER THE LAST DECADE, thunderous New York jazz-funk fusionists Snarky Puppy have garnered a solid international fan base with their intoxicating live shows, as well as a successful catalogue of albums. At the heart of this creative powerhouse is English pianist/keyboardist Bill Laurance, who now presents his own sparkling debut release, along with a UK and Netherlands tour.

Described by Laurance as the album he’s been searching for since he started making music, Flint is a collaboration with two close friends – Snarky stalwarts Michael League (basses, guitars) and Robert ‘Sput’ Searight’ (drums, percussion) – as well as a host of string and horn players. Together, they realise a magnificent compositional spectrum, often on an orchestral/filmic scale as well as anticipated jazz-funk grooving, with Laurance commanding at the grand piano and Fender Rhodes. And, although the majority of the ten through-composed pieces are solely from the leader’s pen (along with League’s considerable input as arranger), the communal sense of striving for both musical exactitude and improvisation is palpable… and exciting.

Setting the tone are the complex urban drum patterns of opener Never-Ending City, with gutsy five-string bass, keys ostinati, cityscape strings and Laurance’s cool piano extemporisations. Janáček/Copland-style brass announces Money in the Desert, a brooding, quietly-pulsating episode which can’t help but break out into moog-driven funk with accented strings, and League’s popping electric guitar lead (blame it on the boogie!). Title track Flint (named after the inspirational effect on Laurance of a Snarky Puppy gig in Flint, Michigan) is more akin to soundtrack, dipping in and out of marching band mode and expansive Philip Glass-like pianistic/orchestral vistas, underpinned by Sput’s metronomic pulse. And all the while, the arrangements feel organically whole.

Smooth jazz Swag Times features quite breathtaking drum razzle-dazzle from Searight against an irresistible Rhodes/synth/vocoder wash – and again, brass and strings widen the landscape (such beautiful execution from string players who completed their entire recording requirement within a day!). The Good Things pares down the line-up to piano, bass and drums, Laurence leading in mysterious, echoic grandeur, plus impressive fuzz bass from League; and baroque-inflected Chia, with its gorgeously mercurial piano and double bass, invites the rapid gypsy fiddle of Zach Brock and portamento string backing to ramp up the tempo and augmented orchestration – in a word, delightful. Whimsical and grungy ska tune Smokers Castle jerks and clatters around Laurance’s detuned piano and a wonderfully brash New Orleans-style brass section; and Gold Coast features the fluid flugelhorn of Mike Maher (also of Snarky Puppy) in an orchestrally opulent, shining affair.

At ten minutes in length, penultimate track Ready Wednesday is a sure highlight, Searight’s fast Latinesque tempo showcasing Laurance’s exacting, rhythmic piano style; and the broad orchestral sweep – even in its later, slower section – has ‘movie soundtrack’ written all over it. As closing titles roll, classical piano end-piece Audrey, with delicate strings and flugel, melancholily waltzes to its rest.

As part of the package (on a second disc), a 47-minute DVD documentary – made by Andy Laviolette – provides a fascinating insight into the making of Flint, revealing the musicians’ passion for their art, as well as various triumphs over adversity along the way (including the sudden non-availability of their pre-booked studio, twelve few hours before recording sessions were due to begin!). Videos of all tracks are also included.

Released on 14 July 2014, this is an ambitious and absorbing project – not least for the Snarky Puppy faithful – which promises much in its translation to a live setting (see below for October 2014 tour dates, samples and purchasing). Check it out!

 

Bill Laurance acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, vocoder, keyboards, shaker, congas, ride cymbal, propane tank, hand claps
Michael League electric bass, double bass, moog bass, 12-string acoustic guitar, electric guitar, hand claps
Robert ‘Sput’ Searight drums, timpani, marching snare & bass drums, shekere, cowbells, vibraslap, woodblocks, shaker, hand claps
Maria Im violin
Zach Brock violin (solos)
Curtis Stewart violin
Henry Flory violin
Lev Zhurbin viola
Eylem Basaldi viola
Maria Jeffers cello
J.Y. Lee cello
Mike ‘Maz’ Maher trumpet, flugelhorn
Matt McLaughlin french horn
Chris Bullock tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute
Brian Donohoe alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute
Scott Flynn trombone
Magda Giannikou propane tank, glockenspiel, xylophone
Emília Canas Mendes & Andy Laviolette hand claps

2014 UK tour dates
03 October: St George’s, Bristol
04 October: Capstone Theatre, Liverpool
06 October: The Glee Club, Birmingham
07 October: Band on the Wall, Manchester
08 October: The Grand, Clitheroe
09 October: Ropery Hall, Barton on Humber
10 October: Turner Sims, Southampton

2014 Netherlands tour dates
11 October: Bird, Rotterdam
12 October: North Sea Jazz Club, Amsterdam

billlaurance.com
Bandcamp.com
iTunes

groundUP music – GRO117 (2014)

‘Shine’ – Jacob Karlzon 3

Karlzon

CONFESSEDLY, I was initially wrong-footed by the Jacob Karlzon 3’s new album, Shine. A casual first-track listen revealed electronica and piano with an amiable, anthemic melody suggesting this release may have more in common with the commercial accessibility of Coldplay than a creative jazz trio. But therein lies the clue…

Swedish pianist/keyboardist/composer Karlzon’s approach to his music is an unusual hybrid – seemingly a traditional piano trio (with bassist Hans Andersson and drummer Robert Mehmet), he seeks to combine the improvisatory unpredictability of jazz with the catchy immediacy of pop. Indeed, following on from 2012 ACT debut, More, and a successful couple of years honing their sound on the live circuit, the mood of these eight originals – along with a surprising U2 interpretation – is generally upbeat, either in effulgent vitality or warm serenity.

The production is tight, with a strong emphasis on synthesised pop techniques – yet, impressively, Robert Mehmet’s acoustic percussion and Hans Andersson’s sung bass meld organically with Karlzon’s shimmering electronics, as well as his eloquent pianistic wizardry. The title track’s Vangelis-like theme tune propulsion typifies this, providing Karlzon with the bright, washy canvas on which to sparkle high at the piano; and Bubbles twinkles magically, Andersson’s bass contributing a beautifully resonant extemporised tune. Recall Bono’s vocal to U2’s pounding classic I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (from 1987’s The Joshua Tree)… and then imagine it as a gently lilting, Enya-style piano solo – it works so well. And to follow, the more rock-driven piano/synth number Outsourced trudges with intent, bearing an uncanny resemblance, say, to Bruce Hornsby’s exuberant live offerings. So, already it’s clear that Karlzon is filtering many influences and styles to fashion a fascinating sound world.

Metropolis is more shadowy. Here, e.s.t. comparisons are difficult to avoid, given the complex techno drum rhythms and prominent, rolling prepared piano improvisations – but, still, it carries the Karlzon mark, tinted with ’70s/’80s prog rock. In contrast, the piano limpidity of Inner Hills, with its soft, simple motion, is a sure heartbeat reducer – time standing still for a light-headed few minutes. And, consistently, it’s the composer’s desire for melody which elevates his creations above any suggestion of humdrum ambience.

Folksong-imbued One More Day shifts into modulatory overtones of Thijs van Leer’s Focus, albeit with a funkier bass edge, Andersson’s pliant strings colouring Karlzon’s piano extemporisations; Screening Self seems to fuse late-Genesis rock influences with (again) a hint of Focus in its scratchy, ascending Hammond interventions; and, finally, Karlzon winds down with A Thousand Conclusions, a meditation which displays the subtle interaction of the ‘3’, building to showcase the pianist’s undeniable piano prowess.

Released in the UK on 15 September 2014, the Jacob Karlzon 3 reach for the feel-good, hoping that this album “helps each and every one who hears it to shine a little in their daily life.” More information and samples can be found at ACT.

 

Jacob Karlzon piano, keys, synths & programming
Hans Andersson bass
Robert Mehmet Ikiz drums

jacobkarlzon.com

ACT – 9573-2 (2014)