Bill Laurance’s Live at Union Chapel is Grammy-worthy material. I’ve procrastinated reviewing this CD/DVD since getting my copy in February simply because it’s been in my car rotation every since and I wanted to do it justice. It’s a live performance in London accompanied by his Snarky Puppy bandmates Michael League on bass and Robert “Sput” Searight on drums along with Felix Higginbottom on percussion. A full string section plus French horn round out the team.
Overall it is one of the richest sounding live piano/keys albums I’ve ever heard and instantly enters into my list of all-time classics. The musicianship, energy and chemistry among all of the team involved in this performance is palpable and should satisfy any audiophile or fan that appreciates jazz, fusion or classical music. Here’s a brief rundown of the tunes.
- The Rush (Originally released on Swift)
The jazzy piano solo intro leading into Les McCann-esque? melodic piano theme joined by strings and French horn. It builds into full band “chorus” and the Bill-Michael-Sput trio immediately showing off their chemistry. Michael takes a nice bass solo lead, perhaps even more so than he might do in Snarky Puppy.
- Never-Ending City (Originally released on Flint)
The pace of drums and piano in contrast to French horn line makes this seem like an epic journey. Bill’s use of electronic vocals adds a futuristic and mysterious quality to the tune. Bright piano solo towards the end shows Bill’s mastery, sounding simple and clear and yet complex at the same time.
- The Good Things (Originally released on Flint)
Starts off with tune almost like sonata, piano break in middle again sounds simple but beautiful playing melody on one hand and background with the other. Truly has earmarks of being a “classic” if not classical tune. Build after piano solo with into an electronic segment is surprising and brilliant. Piano (three repeating notes) with synth has Bill going in two simultaneous directions and is pure genius. The audience definitely appreciates the build and segue back to piano close out of this tune.
- December in New York (Originally released on Swift)
Piano and bass duo at the beginning is like a lullaby. String-piano intro to next segment has classical feel and is exhilarating. This is perhaps the best exhibit of the range of the small combo sounding huge, going from gorgeous piano solos to full sounding orchestral swirls accenting Bill’s playing.
- Red Sand (Originally released on Swift)
Strings swirling around the piano throughout. Michael’s bass very pronounced and leading us through this journey. Timing between Michael and Bill and Sput is an other worldly connection. Crowd appreciates Michaels solo. Bill’s transition again into piano-synth combo makes him seem like more than one or even two people.
- The Real One (Originally released on Swift)
Bill starts out electronic intro evolving into Spanish sounding melodies and further developed by Sput on claves and Felix on percussion. This tune for me was evocative of Chick Corea with a very ethereal flair until the song’s main theme which transitions into a groove worthy of The Crusaders.
- Swift (Originally released on Swift)
Beautiful piano intro joined by ominous string/bass background. French horn solo is a standout on this tune. Bill’s piano sounds optimistic and bouncy and is perhaps the high point of the album. Frenetic pace of piano line with bright string accompaniment. Break back into piano solo ending is simply beautiful.
- Gold Coast (Originally released on Flint)
Starts almost like a child’s simple lullaby with a beautiful Bill solo intro and quickly brings in Michael on bass plus the strings and French horn to conjure a journey along a Gold Coast. The horn solo is elegant and a highlight – the segue into the horn-string segment is especially beautiful.
- Swift (Originally released on Swift)
Swift is an immediate classic in the vein of traditional piano-bass-drum trios and brings back memories of the best of 80s pianists like Bob James, Dave Grusin and Joe Sample. Again, the interplay between the three core team plus French horn works exceptionally well. The interludes with Bill, Michael and Sput showcase their chemistry together.
- Swag Times (Originally released on Flint)
Swag Times starts more funky than any tune on the disc with a string chorus that sounds like horns. Bill and Felix on percussion create some wonderful ambient sounds. Michael lays down a solid bass line throughout this piece.
- Fjords (Originally released on Swift)
Fjords starts a masterful intro first on synth coupled with voiced elements. It feels as if he is pouring his soul into every note. The song feels like a classic with a wall of sound. Sput’s high powered drum roll with Bill’s rolling chords on keys give this a mixed feel of slow and fast tempo simultaneously and it comes to an all too soon conclusion.
- Ready Wednesday (Originally released on Flint)
This is a Bill classic originally appearing on Snarky Puppy’s Tell Your Friends album (as well as Bill’s Flint). As expected, this version starts with a classical sounding intro by Bill. It is incredible that he can evoke some much emotion with each stanza, maximizing the anticipation of what is to come. When the recognizable intro to Ready Wednesday comes, the audience is ready with full participation clapping and the band is ready to hit hard. It is always a fan favorite and this is no exception. the French horn-string ensemble as a substitute for the full horn section is a nice complementary sound. Bill on grand piano is a treat not to be missed and a fitting way to end the show.