After some slight difficulty finding the venue’s entrance off a side street (no thanks to Google Maps), I found my way inside The Glee Club, a very clean and classy looking venue which regularly hosts comedy nights and music gigs. It’s always interesting to see how different venues use their space and the Glee Club used theirs very well, with a stage area set up along the side of the venue, rather than at the back as is common, with seats laid out in rows to give the most people the best view and sound of the show. The live sound was incredible, unusually not too loud even when sitting right near to the front and considering the mix of instruments being played by the quartet, including drums, percussion, synths and acoustic and electric bass, this was no mean feat.
The quartet played without a support, instead opting for the more traditional jazz format of performing two sets with a short interval between. With songs often lingering between the 7 and 10-minute mark, this seems like a good way for the musicians to pace themselves and for the audience to have some time to digest what is going on – and make no mistake, this is no walk in the park. The music that the Bill Laurence Group produce is highly technical, polyrhythmic, deeply layered and without a vocal in sight. Each track seems to take you somewhere far deeper than its duration should allow and the context in which most of the songs were created (a lot of the material was written by Laurence and the others whilst on tour as members of Grammy-winning group Snarky Puppy) seems difficult to believe given the complexity of the sounds that they achieve.
Laurence fronted the group from the left-side of the stage with various keyboards, synthesisers and his brand new ROLI Seaboard (fresh out of the box that day) at his disposal. His three-piece rhythm section included percussion, bass and drums, all of which seemed to be playing to their own rhythms, yet somehow it all worked together. Snarky Puppy drummer Robert ‘Sput’ Searight is one of the best drummers that I have seen perform live, effortlessly adjusting and modifying his kit mid-song to get the sounds out of it that he required. Far from the standard role of merely supporting the down-beats, the bass was played as a melodic instrument in its own right, with stunning lines, rhythms and interplay with the rest of the group. Finally, the mixture of percussion threw a real spanner in the rhythmic works of the group, often playing against the beat or groove laid down by the others, albeit clearly intentionally, but definitely making the music more challenging to listen to overall.
The advantage of no vocals on the tracks is that the music can ebb and flow as it sees fit, rather than conforming to a strophic formula that dominates popular music today. Following this show, the band has played a number of sell-out dates around Europe and it’s clear to see why they are so popular on the scene. Anybody who is able to make jazz more accessible and instrumental music more melodic and interesting is somebody with as skill that will always be in demand. It looks like the future will be very bright from the Bill Laurence Group.