Trumpeter and composer, Laura Jurd celebrates ten years with Elliot Galvin (piano), Corrie Dick (drums) and Conor Chaplin (double bass), both as Dinosaur and under her own moniker.
Jurd describes working with her bandmates and fellow Trinity Laban (where she currently teaches in the composition department) alumni as “like putting on the most comfortable pair of shoes…a space in which the sounds take care of us and we take care of them”. Jurd has commented before about leanings towards the improvisatory and their latest effort finds the group encompassing through-composition more than ever. Under less proficient hands, this may result in something scattergun or diffuse. ‘To the Earth’ speaks volumes about how much time goes into rehearsing as a band and perfecting their craft, however.
Whereas 2018’s ‘Wonder Trail’ was studio-based and contained a lot of analogue bass, ‘To the Earth’ feels more rarefied, which isn’t to say it isn’t also accessible. The album’s titular opener begins tentatively, Chaplin’s percussion grounding Jurd on brass and keeping things steady beyond its vamp.
While Jurd is playful and regularly dictates the songs using loops and patterns, she has no problem letting the rest of her bandmates take centre stage too. There’s a powerful subtlety to the record that might have been lost with a jazz band shaking off the shackles of the studio. Nevertheless, it would have been interesting to see veteran pianist, Galvin occupy more fusillades and play a greater primary role.
Even Jurd’s moodier compositions such as Slow Loris (“a small, slow-moving nocturnal Asian primate…living in dense vegetation” for anyone wondering) are fun and animated. The song centres around four chords performed by Chaplin who intermittently teases with the momentum of the piece, fluttering and tumbling while the remaining band members jam around him. This dissonance is evident throughout, most notably on the thumping and tribal, Held by Water, which incorporates oriental stylings into its second passage.
Jurd has remarked about her fondness for what is coming out of Norway, citing Heida Mobeck and Anja Lauvdal (with whom she collaborated on last year’s magnificent ‘Stepping Back, Jumping In’, as well as touring with them during the spring) and this is nowhere more keenly felt than on lead single, Mosking which channels piano trio Moskus. On first listen, Mosking is the most infectious and carnivalesque of anything on ‘To the Earth’ but before too long, Banning Street Blues (named after a street in Greenwhich up the road from Trinity Laban) equally evokes images of Crescent City. It flows like it too.
Elsewhere, Jurd et al. elongate Absinthe (originally penned by Billy Strayhorn and performed by another of her idols, Duke Ellington) to terrific effect. Closer For One exhibits Dinosaur’s classical side, meanwhile. Delicacy, and minimalism are the order of the day and this is the band at their most capacious, most polished-off and arguably at their strongest. The way Galvin brushes the keys is both tranquil and hypnotic. A fitting end to a delectable album.
During its twenty-eight years, no jazz artist(s) has ever won the Mercury Prize. Perhaps Dinosaur can go one better than in 2017 and clinch the prize before its thirtieth.