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Matthew Ruddick

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Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Thursday, 28 March 2024 16:56

Bill Laurance and The Untold Orchestra - Bloom

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Big scale music ensures big impact on the listener.

Snarky Puppy keyboardist - and in recent years a star in his own right with a stream of successful albums under his belt - Bill Laurance has a new label and a new, expanded sound: strings. To be precise, the 21 violins, violas, cellos and double basses of Manchester’s The Untold Orchestra.

I was introduced to the Laurance/Untold relationship when he toured a previous album - Cables - with his trio and they played at the Union Chapel. The Untold Orchestra stole the show and gave an already super set of tunes an almighty boost. Now, on this new album, it’s just Bill Laurance - sans trio - and the orchestra.

The album was recorded in September 2022, so it has taken eighteen months to mature to a release; but like a fine wine, the result offers a tasty mix of flavours: jazz, classical, and hints of pop. 

Laurance’s training was in classical piano, something which has come through on many of his albums, and by using an orchestra - and ditching bass and drums in the rhythm section - Laurance has opened up more headroom for his already rich composing. Fatherhood, too, has clearly inspired him with his readiness to dream big on this project.

It kicks off - on Bloom - with just strings for the first minute or so, brooding, then the cellos and violas jump in with loping, swooping sounds that build, as the piano starts to appear, simply. A dramatic, opening to the album, but sketched out in pencil strokes rather than broad, defined colours. There is already a hint of Laurance's trademark rhythmic intensity and layered, sculpted but pleasingly simple grooves that spill out of all Laurance’s compositions to date.

Watch the official music video for Bloom here:

Before the Sun also opens moodily, then pizzicato strings tiptoe around a simple set of little runs on the keyboard; intensity is upped, then put on hold; lots of variation in the mood that keeps things interesting for the ear, especially with the luscious cellos and violas all syrupy smooth. 

Showing off his compositional chops, Laurance gives The Untold Orchestra - conducted by Rory Storm - plenty of real estate on the album; it’s an equal partnership, not just a keyboardist and some hired strings. They balance well on All at Once, as the choppy keyboard riff hangs back to let the soaring strings do their thing, particular in the higher registers, to great effect; and all the time, the pacy main string rhythm just gallops like a thoroughbred. 

Laurance’s jazz wisdom is there, but it’s not in your face - every idea serves the song and the medium of the orchestra, rather than trying to dominate. Similarly, there’s plenty of improvisation, but it’s not obtrusive; at times, your ear has to hunt for it. The album never runs away with things, with Laurance always building on the strong foundations of the orchestra, such as on Right Where We Are.

Lyra is the most difficult-to-pin-down track, stylistically, but it has again a strong chug-chug-chug of the lower string registers and mountain streams of violins and violas just cascading over Laurance’s keyboard. The overall mix is intoxicating and exciting; very much a more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts fusion. The Right Time - driven by the cellos and two double basses underpinning some gorgeous soloing by Laurance - is the best track on the album.

Like a fine wine, this new album should go down well for those with a discerning jazz palate and keyboard fans looking for something different than the usual.

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