The Bill Laurance Project ‘Swift’ (GroundUP) 4/5

bill-lauranceOn first listen, Bill Laurance’s follow-up to his first Project release “Flint” comes over purely as a mood piece, with sensitively integrated strings, synths, drums and bass, all put together to create a thematic piece of musical theatre. And indeed, “Swift” is that, but delve deeper and you will find it is so much more. Together with fellow Snarky Puppy key members Robert “Sput” Seawright and Michael League, the trio have crafted a genre busting album of classical/jazz/ambient/groove/film-score type themes. The opener “Prologue: Fjords” begins our journey with an 8-piece orchestral string section. This is a slow build with vocoder/vocals, bass and synths. But it’s when the drums kick in that the emotion grips the listener as it climbs and climbs before reaching its intense peak, only then releasing its hold on the tension that has been created. Laurance’s piano opens the second tune “December In New York”. A sweeping, bustling theme takes the listener into the Big Apple with its colourful pictures of late night/early morning rain-swept streets, a few lost souls wandering aimlessly, perhaps with nowhere to go, or maybe just looking for something or someone they haven’t yet found. The title track “Swift” is more theatrical, almost sounding as if a collage of thoughts have been crafted to create the final piece. Laurance himself makes some interesting comments on this: “Sput (Robert Seawright) helped me produce and he had a huge impact. I had about twenty ideas, but I couldn’t get the right structure. He organised the ideas for me, we put the track together and it turned out brilliant. It’s like a big Afro-beat outro, the intro is more like a deep hip-hop, but more symphonic, dramatic.” The orchestrations, cleverly integrated with drum and bass grooves are prevalent on “U-Bahn” and “The Rush”, whilst perhaps the most straight-ahead jazz track of the album “Denmark Hill”, is a simple (in a very good way) piano trio piece on which Laurance allows the melody to shine. “Red Sand”, with its pop and techno undertones, leads us into the Weather Report-esque “The Real One”. This is an album of many styles crossing paths along the way and this track is a prime example. As the tune develops into a funk groove it feels reminiscent to this listener of the groove laid down in the middle section of Pink Floyd’s classic 1971 track “Echoes”. It doesn’t have the screeching whale-noise guitar, but it certainly embodies the same vibe, creating a brilliant atmosphere. “Mr Elevator” could be the soundtrack to an ’80’s movie, sun-kissed and hypnotic. Time to breathe on the beautiful “One Time”. Early Pat Metheny/Lyle Mayes influences here, with its warm, sweeping landscape of sound. The final track “The Isles” features the lyrical piano playing of Laurance at his best. Lush strings add the colour and together we swim in its textures and emotionally captivating themes. “Swift” is an album of hidden depths. Allow yourself the time and space to melt into it and you’ll reap the rewards.

Mike Gates