Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Laura Jurd

Stepping Back, Jumping In


by Ian Mann

August 27, 2019


The mix of jazz, classical, folk, world and electronic elements is truly unique, yet it all comes together to create an impressively coherent whole, with Jurd’s vision the unifying force.

Laura Jurd

“Stepping Back, Jumping In”

(Edition Records EDN1131)

 Trumpeter, keyboard player and composer Laura Jurd has attracted a compelling amount of critical praise since exploding into the British jazz consciousness in 2013 with the release of her astonishingly mature début album “Landing Ground”, with its stunning mix of jazz and classical elements and influences.

A graduate of London’s Trinity Laban College of Music the Hampshire born Jurd has continued to traverse musical boundaries. 2014’s sprawling and ambitious “Human Spirit” introduced a folk element and was a semi-conceptual song cycle featuring the extraordinary vocals of the Irish born singer Lauren Kinsella.

Jurd and Kinsella united again as the female half of the quartet Blue-Eyed Hawk which fused elements of jazz, literature and indie rock together on 2014’s superb “Under the Moon” album. The band also featured guitarist Alex Roth and drummer Corrie Dick.

Dick, pianist Elliot Galvin and bassist Conor Chaplin have formed the core of Jurd’s working band from the beginning, first as the Laura Jurd Quartet and more recently as Dinosaur. All are members of the Chaos Collective, an aggregation of former Trinity students forged in the wake of the influential F-ire and Loop Collectives. Under Jurd’s direction the large ensemble Chaos Orchestra recorded the album “Island Mentality” which was released on the Collective’s own label in 2013.

Dinosaur’s 2016 début “Together As One” (Edition) attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim and was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. A similar amount of praise was lavished on its 2018 follow up “Wonder Trail” and the success of Dinosaur has ensured that the group has been Jurd’s main focus in the last few years.

However, like most jazz performers, Jurd isn’t the kind of musician to put all her eggs in one basket. A restlessly inquisitive and highly versatile musician she has also appeared in a variety of other contexts ranging from the free to the straight-ahead (the latter alongside veteran saxophonist Art Themen) and she and Dick appeared on Phronesis’ bassist Jasper Hoiby’s début solo album “Fellow Creatures”. Jurd has also featured in bands led by saxophonist Phil Meadows, and Mark Lockheart, bassist Huw V Williams and in Wildflower Sextet, the Wayne Shorter inspired group led by saxophonist Matt Anderson. She has performed and recorded with trombonist Raphael Clarkson’s large ensemble Dissolute Society and guested on Sarah Gillespie’s most recent album “Wishbones”.

Jurd’s first album for five years under her own name harks back to the classical and folk fusions of “Landing Ground” and “Human Spirit”. It’s possible that the seeds for the project were first sown in 2016 when Dinosaur collaborated with the BBC Concert Orchestra in a special event at the Royal Festival Hall that formed part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival.

However “Stepping Back, Jumping In” is different again and features a fourteen piece ensemble that includes some of Jurd’s favourite musicians, the personnel coming from a range of musical backgrounds, including jazz, classical, world music and electronica,

Of the album title Jurd explains;
“It simply refers to the notion of perspective, having a broader view of one’s experiences in order to make bold, impactful choices and jump into the unknown. It felt apt for a project of this magnitude, having not released anything under my own name for a few years.”

The project was initially commissioned by Kings Place, London as part of their “Venus Unwrapped” series, with St. George’s, Bristol and The Sage, Gateshead also commissioning new works. The Sage also provided the recording space and the music was documented over the course of two days in March 2019 by the much lauded recording engineer Sonny Johns.

The ensemble lined up as follows;

Laura Jurd – trumpet

Raphael Clarkson – trombone (tracks 3,5 & 6)
Alex Paxton – trombone (tracks 1 & 2)

Martin Lee Thomson – euphonium

Soosan Lolovar – santoor

Rob Luft – banjo, guitars

The Ligeti Quartet;
Mandhira De Saram - violin
Patrick Dawes – violin
Richard Jones – viola
Cecilia Bignall – cello

Elliot Galvin – piano

Anja Lauvdal – synth, electronics

Conor Chaplin – double bass

Liz Exell – drum kit

Corrie Dick – drum kit

Jurd says of the ensemble;
“The ensemble consists of brass, string quartet (the Ligeti Quartet who featured on my début album ‘Landing Ground’), banjo/acoustic guitar and santoor – adding texture and welcome influences from other musical traditions- as well as piano, double bass and drums/percussion. The wild-card of this entirely acoustic ensemble is Anja Lauvdal who plays synth/electronics and works with the successful alt-pop group Broen. I’m a huge fan of Anja’s and knew that she would create sounds that would sit within the ensemble perfectly”.

The album features compositions from five different composers with Jurd, Galvin, Lolavar, Lauvdal and Heida K. Johannesdottir all contributing to the writing process.

The album commences with Jurd’s own “Jumping In”, a near eleven minute tour de force that skilfully brings together the various elements of the ensemble and embraces broad range of influences, skilfully stitching the diverse strands into a coherent whole. The music is restless, edgy and energetic and features several changes of style, pace and dynamics. Free jazz episodes alternate with banjo driven glimpses of Americana, the contemporary classical sounds of the Ligetis, and more. Jurd plays with an admirable fluency and urgency while Exell and Dick embark on an exciting and engaging drum and percussion battle. Jurd even finds room to incorporate the sound of the dulcimer like santoor. There’s a restlessness about the music and a willingness to experiment with different stylistic elements that reminds me of the work of Django Bates. For all its unorthodoxies “Jumping In” is a hugely exciting opening to the album, a real roller coaster ride of a composition that consistently keeps the listener on the edge of their seat.

Elliot Galvin, one of Jurd’s longest serving musical collaborators, is also known for his eclectic writing style and is described by his colleague as “one of the most captivating performers in European jazz”. His composition, “Ishtar”, represents something of a departure from the short, quirky, energetic, enigmatic pieces that he writes for his own trio. Instead it is a twelve minute excursion, more concerned with narrative and mood building than it is with Galvin’s usual irreverence. Jurd mentions the influence upon Galvin of modern classical composers Gyorgy Ligeti and George Crumb and their presence is felt here, together with Galvin’s jazz and improv sensibilities. Woozy, droning string textures combine with the plucked and hammered sounds of banjo, double bass and santoor, plus brass, percussion and the composer’s own piano. In the middle of the tune a passage of otherwise unaccompanied piano is subtly augmented by Lauvdal’s electronics. Subsequently Jurd’s breathy, Henriksen-esque trumpet whisper comes to the fore, followed by passages featuring deeper brass sonorities, odd meter drum grooves and a trombone solo from the impressive Alex Paxton. The final section is deeply atmospheric, with an almost funereal feel. Nevertheless as a piece of music it remains totally compelling.

Next we hear “I Am The Spring, You Are The Earth”, a piece written by santoor player Soosan Lolavar, of whom Jurd says;
“I met Soosan at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance, where we both teach composition. Of Iranian heritage, I was really intrigued by her interest in traditional Iranian music and how she incorporates that in her own writing. She operates in more ‘classical’ circles and I was excited by the prospect of her writing for improvising musicians.”
The piece features the distinctive sound of the composer’s santoor above a bed of ominously droning strings, while Luft adds atmospheric slide guitar and Galvin glacially twinkling piano.
Tension builds almost imperceptibly, to be released by a salvo of drums and a fanfare of brass as it enters more obvious ‘contemporary classical avant garde’ territory, before gradually subsiding once more, ending with an eerie keyboard drone.

Jurd’s “Jump Cut Shuffle” was written specifically for the Ligetis and features the quartet exclusively, its members deploying a variety of bowed and pizzicato sounds to excellent effect.
At nearly nine and a half minutes in length the writing embraces a variety of styles ranging from contemporary classical through folk to gypsy jazz, but with the emphasis mainly on the former. Having worked with Jurd before the Ligetis are more than capable of handling the challenges the trumpeter / composer throws their way. De Saram has also worked with saxophonist Trish Clowes as part of her Emulsion Sinfonietta, while guest cellist Bignall has previously collaborated with vibraphonist Ralph Wyld.

“Companion Species” was jointly written by Lauvdal and Johannesdottir, with Jurd offering the following insights into the pair and their work;
“Keyboardist Anja Lauvdal and tuba player Heida Karine Johannesdottir are two of my favourite musicians from Oslo, Norway. They play regularly as an improvising duo and in a number of collaborative ensembles of various styles, including alt-pop group Broen. I love their collaborative, democratic approach to composition.  The way they occupy space as improvisers is also a huge inspiration to me and it was a delight to be a part of their music and to play with Anja for the first time.”
As multi-faceted as anything else on the album “Companion Species” commences with the scintillating soloing of Lolavar on accompanied santoor before embracing elements of avant garde jazz and electronica, a series of drum explosions eventually triggering a complex but infectious groove that provides the jumping off point for a forceful trumpet solo from Jurd and a slippery outing on guitar like synth from Lauvdal. Elsewhere fidgety electronica and pizzicato strings weave their way in and out of the mix. Incidentally Lauvdal is also a member of the trio Moskus, an innovative contemporary variant of the piano trio.

The album concludes with Jurd’s “Stepping Back”, the companion piece to the album opener. It’s less frenetic but no less inventive and colourful, with Jurd again making use of the broad sonic palette available to her. Again a broad range of sounds and musical styles is heard with the leader’s trumpet variously complemented by synths, brass and strings. The piece has a more pastoral feel than the opener and a more pronounced folk element. It concludes an often frenetic album on a pleasingly calming note.

“Stepping Back, Jumping In” is a truly a remarkable album, one that features what must surely be a unique instrumental line up. With so many diverse musical components and with so many hands involved in the composing process it really shouldn’t work, and yet it does, with Jurd’s vision, playing and presence the unifying force that brings it all together.

The mix of jazz, classical, folk, world and electronic elements is truly unique yet it all comes together to create an impressively coherent whole, a musical synthesis that embodies the spirit of the Edition label. It’s very much to Edition’s credit that this music, which had been performed live, but which might otherwise have vanished into the ether, has been documented on disc. This an adventurous, daring album that criss-crosses many musical boundaries and it represents a very worthy follow up to the similarly genre fluid “Landing Ground” and “Human Spirit”.

The openness of the new album and its willingness to experiment and blur musical and geographical boundaries is also wholly typical of Laura Jurd and represents another successful chapter in a remarkable musical career.

That said it won’t appeal to all listeners. Die hard jazz fans may find it all too musically schizophrenic and cite a lack of conventional jazz swing. However many more listeners will applaud Jurd’s sense of adventure and the all round skill and quality of this unique ensemble.

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