Artist SpotlightBill Laurance

Fri Aug 25 2023

Pianist, keyboardist and composer Bill Laurance’s music evokes a striking sense of time and place. As an original member of three-time Grammy Award-winning, globetrotting, genre-defying group Snarky Puppy, Laurance has toured the world countless times, playing hundreds of concerts to tens of thousands of fans worldwide. His fearless artistic instincts now see him leaping into a boundary-defying solo soundworld for his fifth album, the cryptically titled, Cables. The first album to be released on Laurance’s newly launched Flint imprint, the record’s eight melodically-rich songs dive deep into multi-layered textures of electro-acoustic keyboards, piano and drum machines. All these components are deployed to give voice to the album’s powerful overarching theme, which Laurance explains: “Cables is my first concept album, which was originally inspired by the film Transcendent Man, a documentary about the controversial technologist Ray Kurtzweil’s prediction that we will have created a conscious robot by the year 2029. While this feels somewhat frightening, I’m equally excited by the idea – it obviously has profound implications for the way our society functions.” These experiences have fed directly into his four solo albums, with each drawing inspiration from the people and places he’s encountered, often distilling them into powerful musical portraits. This sensory, cinematic dimension to his music has perhaps inevitably led to a move into scoring music for films, most recently for the feature documentary Remember My Name, about the life and career of David Crosby, and his first feature film score for Un Traductor, with both receiving nominations at Sundance Film Festival 2017 and 2018 respectively. Creating music that retains a human element at its core is the key to Cables’ powerful musical statement – which is one that Laurance admits looks at both the possibilities and perils of our permanently plugged-in world: “There's no question that this album has a darkness to it. I am painting the picture of a dystopian world ruled by technology. But I'm also interested in human interaction with technology. This record is trying to embrace technology and celebrate the coming together of man and machine. As Ray Kurtzweil himself says: God will exist – and we will realise our full potential, when man and machine become one.” Heartfelt and complex, sophisticated and soulful, menacing and mesmerising, Cables is as reflective as it is exhilarating. Laurance has unveiled his new widescreen musical vision that’s a big step forward for this master of sonic storytelling. How the flint first sparked.... The musical curiosity that lies at the heart of Cables, which is released in March 2019, and follows a frenetic run of solo albums that include Live at the Union Chapel and the African-funk of Aftersun (2016), the strings-led Flint (2014) and electronica edged Swift (2015), are the natural continuation of the 37-year-old Laurance’s lifelong infatuation with the piano. This began with a childhood love of ragtime, while he showed his determination early on by working through the classical grades and earning his keep over three summers of a Soho restaurant residency playing jazz standards. Attending the University of Leeds, he majored in classical composition and, thanks to the college’s open ethos, also managed to explore jazz, funk and drum’n’bass in his final performance. Since then he’s honed the melodic immediacy of this approach, along with his intense improvisational prowess, forging a distinctive personal style that embraces English classical, electronica and jazz-rock sensibilities, alongside gritty contemporary grooves. In the early-noughties, a twenty-something Laurance was trying to make a living on the Leeds music scene, when an unremarkable but timely pick-up gig presented itself with a young bassist called Michael League in singer Michael Solomon Williams’ band. Gigs in the north of England forged a friendship with League, who happened to be looking for a new piano player, and League invited Laurance to the US to record the first Snarky Puppy album, The Only Constant, and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then, Laurance has clocked up recordings and or performances with such renowned artists as David Crosby, Morcheeba, Salif Keita, Terence Blanchard, Susana Baca, Lalah Hathaway, Laura Mvula, Jacob Collier, Musiq Soul Child, Khalid Sansi, Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke, Carlos Malta, The Metropole Orchestra and the WDR Big Band. He has also worked extensively in the dance world with companies including Alvin Ailey, Ballet Rambert, Matthew Bourne's Adventures in Motion Pictures, Phoenix Dance, Northern Ballet Theatre and the English National Ballet. He's composed music for a variety of different clients including Apple Mac, Sky Broadband, Nokia and Hewlett Packard and is currently working on three separate commissions for Big Band, Orchestra and Choir. He is a champion of cutting-edge keyboard developments and is endorsed by: Moog, Mellotron, Sequential, Korg, Nord, Roli Seaboard, Yamaha, Roland, Arp Odyssey, Keyscape, Sound Brenner, Native Instruments and MXR. Alongside Laurance’s touring as a solo artist and with Snarky Puppy, he is the Artist in residence at Morley College London, is a passionate educator and continues to give clinics at music institutions all over the world (Mike Flynn, Jazzwise Magazine).