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Essentials: “Live at Union Chapel”

Essentials: “Live at Union Chapel”
Recorded in May 2015 and released this past November, Bill Laurance’s “Live at Union Chapel” represents everything good about Grammy-winning artists.

The politics of any award are often going to get in the way of giving credit where credit is due. We’ve seen it in #OscarsSoWhite and Iggy Azalea, in winners being chosen out of sheer popularity and sales numbers. “Art” and “talent” are large words, brimming with possibility and subjectivity. But sometimes, musicality and technical expertise are a simple fact. That’s what you get when Bill and his boys come to town.

As a founding member of the internationally recognized, also-Grammy-winning jazz-fusion groove-master collective that is Snarky Puppy, Bill Laurance’s credentials are undeniable. Multi-instrumental, classically trained and a professional musician since 14, Laurance has had plenty of time to figure out of kind of music he wants to make.

His solo explorations started in 2014 with “Flint,” an instant number one on iTunes Jazz Charts, and continued in 2015 with “Swift.” Laurance may spend time as a specialist lecturer at the Institute of Contemporary Music in London, but his knowledge of what makes music work goes well beyond an academic understanding.

In “Live at Union Chapel,” It is that intuitive understanding that’s on full display. Sharing the stage with Snarky Puppy family members Michael League and Robert “Sput” Searight, on bass and drums respectively, Laurance gives a welcoming hometown crowd a generous helping of pianistic magic. As part of larger bands, Laurance is a noteworthy contributor and constant highlight. In his solo efforts, his music inevitably has a much more personal feel, blurring genre lines and creating an almost intimate atmosphere between musician and listener.

The creative freedom allowed to Laurance after years of performing and establishing a name for himself is impressive. More impressive is what he does with it, swinging from measure to measure with an impeccable sense of style and timing, winking at big names such as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Bill Evans along the way.

The songs heard on “Live at Union Chapel” have been played extensively by Laurance and friends, but they’re far from tired. In fact, there’s a distinct sense of freshness and vitality to be found when post-production is left out of the equation and a live audience is present and participating. “Swag Times” and “December in New York” are obvious standouts, and League’s wonderfully rendered solo on “Red Sand” deserves mention. The transitions between songs are fluid, and the set list was clearly given careful consideration.

A physical copy of the album includes a 90-mintute concert DVD, with behind-the-scenes footage, rehearsal clips, and a guided tour of Sput’s “drum castle.” Released by the GroundUP Music label, “Live at Union Chapel” is a passion project that shouldn’t be missed.

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