Bill Laurance is no stranger to the Sugar Club, having played here with both Snarky Puppy as well as fronting his own solo project over the years. In recent times, as the Snarky collective continues to grow exponentially there have been numerous offshoots to grace our shores, including Forq featuring Michael League, Cory Henry’s Revival Project and Bill Laurance’s latest quartet line-up that tonight promotes his freshly released album Aftersun.
Laurance’s past efforts have, similarly to Snarky Puppy, been heavily orchestrated and arranged outings, recorded as live studio albums on the fly. Veering away from the larger set up, Aftersun, which came out on the 4th of March, sees the pianist embrace the more compact quartet format and tonight’s gig at the Sugar Club showcases the sonic possibilities of such an ensemble.
Taking to the stage with the title track of his latest release, the sustained, synth chords of ‘Aftersun’ hype up the crowd who are already rapt with attention and drawn closely in on the stage. Laurance impresses with a two handed keyboard solo before drummer Richard Spaven gives broken beat a whole new meaning as his tight, syncopated rhythm purposefully falls in and out of time before he grounds it once again. A final solo from Laurance ushers convincing wah-wah guitar sounds from his keyboard as he bends the notes with the pitch stick before moving into the middle-eastern modes of ‘Chia’ from his first album Flint.
This first part of the set also features a stripped down version of ‘Red Sand’ from last year’s Swift and the crowd-pleasing ‘Swag Times’ with its rumbling Moog bass line and solid down-tempo groove.
The second half of this evening’s set begins with the soft piano arpeggios of the classically imbued ‘The Good Things’. Again eastern modes permeate Laurance’s improvisation, with his keyboard’s piano sound gradually becoming consumed by fuzzy synth leads and a pounding rock beat. Laurance tries his hand on the Roli Seaboard MIDI controller for the intro to ‘The Real One’, allowing him an added level of expression and improvisation in his performance as he bends and slides through half and quarter notes.
Newer compositions from his latest release pepper the rest of the evening with ‘Time to Run’ allowing percussionist Felix Higginbottom let loose on the congas, while bassist Chris Hyson hops between his Moog and electric bass. The set draws to an end with the closing track from Aftersun as the faint reggae rhythms of ‘A Blaze’ give way to distorted keyboard solos over a backdrop of skittering percussion. No sign of the first and funkiest track from Aftersun tonight, but a wide ranging set encompassing much of the pianist’s solo repertoire makes it a wholly enjoyable evening full of innovative modern jazz compositions.
Bill Laurance photographed for State by Dave Desmond