REVIEW: Bill Laurance Project at Shoreditch Town Hall (EFG LJF 2016)

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Bill Laurance Project
(Shoreditch Town Hall, 20th November 2016. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Rob Mallows)

Bill Laurance couldn’t stop smiling at Sunday night’s gig in this newly refurbished performance space. It’s easy to see why.

He’s a founding member of one of the world’s hottest jazz-influenced bands, Snarky Puppy. A co-winner of two Grammys with the same. He’s been married just a month. His brand new CD/DVD Live at Union Chapel is by all accounts going gang-busters. And he’s just walked out to a packed, adoring London audience.

Bill Laurance is having a good year, to say the least. The show at Shoreditch Town Hall demonstrated why.

His music is entertaining as hell. It’s as simple as that. Sure, the guardians of the jazz Reinheitsgebot may turn a lip up at some of his more dance-influenced tracks, such as Night in the City, but there’s no denying that when it comes to creating compelling keyboard instrumentals, Laurance has more hooks in his locker than the average fly fisherman.

Track after track, the luxurious melodies kept coming, testifying to the rich compositional bent Laurance has been on since his first solo album, Flint just under three years ago!

He played thirteen tracks in one hundred or so minutes, mixing fan favourites like December in New York with the more ethereal, Brian-Eno-like colourwash of the third album title track Aftersun, a tune dedicated to the US cosmologist Carl Sagan, which was certainly as expansive and awe-inspiring in its soundscape as any galaxy.

Laurance mixed in ballads such as Madeleine (written for his now wife) with the joyously upbeat Red Sand, inspired by a stay with desert tribes in the Maghreb, and, in a mid-set solo break, his much reworked take on the rock classic House of the Rising Sun which notes soared beautifully through the proscenium arch and around this gloriously appointed, Italianate space.

The Bill Laurance Band were fundamental to creating this joyous experience. Chris Hyson on bass and bass keyboards was wildly cheered when introduced and for good reason - his playing was understated but created the surest of low-end foundations for Laurance’s keyboard gymnastics. Percussionist Felix Higginbottom, deputising too on keyboards, was mesmerising to watch as he hit, stroked, twanged and shook every piece of apparatus open to him to add that extra piquancy to each tune, particularly on his solo on The Real One. Star for me was drummer Joshua Blackmore. Undemonstrative, almost zen-like at his drum kit, his pacing all night was excellent and, in tandem with Higghinbottom, he generated a rhythmic cornucopia which gave Laurance's melodies real pep and vim. It’s so satisfying watching a drummer drum very well and make it look effortless.

Expect the Bill Laurance star to continue to rise in the firmament, on the basis of this showing. Compelling listening and thoroughly entertaining.

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