Laura Jurd’s new album sees her reunite with the The Ligeti Quartet, the modern string section she worked with on the superb Landing Ground (2012). But while that album sounded like a jazz band crossing over into contemporary classical space, Jurd uses them as part of a broader, more ambitious sound palette here, adding piano (Elliot Galvin), guitar and banjo (Rob Luft), santoor (a dulicer-like instrument, played by Soosan Lolavar), synthesizers and electronics (Anja Laudval), euphonium (Martin Lee Thomson), trombone (Raphael Clarkson and Alex Patton) and two set of drums (Corrie Dick and Liz Exell). If all of that sounds a bit cluttered on paper – you won’t be surprised to learn that it occasionally sounds a little cluttered, too.
Opening track, Jumping In, which was composed and arranged by Jurd, sees galloping stings interspersed with banjo, which adds a touch of Americana; whilst Americana can work in a jazz context, as many of Bill Frissell’s albums have illustrated, I wasn’t convinced it worked here, and found the whole arrangement too busy to be enjoyable, even when Jurd’s trumpet came to the fore. Certain elements worked well, but they were fleeting, and I found myself yearning for a melody that never emerged.
Watch the album trailer here:
The lengthy Ishtar, which weighs in at twelve minutes, was composed by pianist Elliot Galvin, was much more to my taste, with a haunting Middle Eastern-flavoured string intro, courtesy of The Ligeti Quartet, some sparse percussion and an arrangement which left more space for the music to breathe.
I Am The Spring, You Are The Earth was composed by santoor player Soosan Lolavar, and begins with an Indian-style drone, with subtle changes, before the piece gradually builds, with keyboard, brass and drums building to a dramatic crescendo, before subsiding once more to close. This piece sounds almost contemporary classical in style, and whilst impressive enough in it’s own right, didn’t fit well the preceding music, to my mind at least.
Jump Cut Shuffle could also be described as contempory classical, and features an arrangement by Laura Jurd for the The Ligeti Quartet alone. Whilst this composition demonstrated the breadth of her skills, the changing tempos made it a challenging listen. I much preferred Companion Species, which was composed by Anja Lauvdal and Heida K Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck. This piece blended classical, jazz and afrobeat influences into a cohesive tune, which is no mean feat; it also featured Laura Jurd rather more prominently on trumpet.
Stepping Back, another Jurd composition, brings the album to a close. There is a much more pastoral feel to this piece than the opener, and as a result, it was much easier on the ear.
The album was commissioned by Kings Place in London, where the music was debuted earlier this year, followed by performances in Bristol and Gateshead, where the album was recorded. The music might be easier to appreciate in a live setting, but on album, I found it too disjointed, even after several listens. Laura Jurd has attempted to create a ‘sonic ecosystem’ of her own, working with several musicians that she admires, and enjoys playing with. You certainly can’t fault her ambition, but I would prefer to see her work with a more traditional ‘big’ band sound palette.