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Laura Jurd: Big Footprints

Ian Patterson By

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It’s difficult to describe, but I always find it such an exciting thing about art in general–the whole universal language thing that it achieves and the way it can connect a bunch of strangers in a room. —Laura Jurd
Every few years a band appears that injects a welcome shot of adrenaline into the jazz mainstream, exciting media, promoters and fans alike—the Neil Cowley Trio, Phronesis, GoGo Penguin and Snarky Puppy all spring to mind. Dinosaur, an English quartet led by trumpeter Laura Jurd, is being widely tipped to create such waves on the strength of Its debut album, Together, As One (Editions, 2016). It's received glowing reviews, catapulting the group to the front cover of Jazzwise—the UK's leading jazz magazine—and garnering a rare five star thumbs-up from The Guardian's John Fordham. The UK has succumbed to this exciting new group and the rest of Europe beckons.

A new group? Well, not entirely. Jurd, Elliot Galvin, Conor Chaplin and Corrie Dick have been together since 2010, going under the name of the Laura Jurd Quartet. After one critically acclaimed album and six years gigging and building a musical identity, it seemed like an odd move, not to say a risky one, to change the band's name.

"A lot of the bands that I love—none of them are called the so-and-so Quartet," explains Jurd. "Because of the direction the music was heading in, and because it feels like such a band and not a fleeting project, I just didn't feel it was right anymore to call it that [Laura Jurd Quartet] anymore, though I'm sure I will do projects in the future under my own name."

The name Dinosaur and its music had been fermenting in Jurd's mind for some time. "I had this band called Dinosaur in my head, which was electric, a bit rocky, and way in the future. The music we were playing started to turn into that and I started thinking, maybe this funny little fantasy band I have in my head is actually my band," Jurd laughs. "Definitely we had to make a decision about the name before recording an album because once you've made an album as a band that's it."

Under the former LJQ moniker, the quintet recorded one album, 2012's Landing Ground (Chaos Collective), which featured Jurd's original writing for the quartet and the Ligeti String Quartet, plus Jurd's duets with cello, piano and drums. The music on Together, As One, however, is markedly different, almost as if a different band were behind the music.

"When we were making this album I had gone really deep into a lot of those 1970's Miles Davis albums, Jurd relates. "It's just where my head is at the moment. I love albums like Live Evil (Columbia, 1971) Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1971), Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970), On the Corner (Columbia, 1972). I love listening to how Miles plays on those albums and how they develop the grooves. That's definitely a big influence," acknowledges Jurd.

"I think the trumpet, as an acoustic instrument, works so wonderfully with that electric sound, and the percussive element of the trumpet works really well in that setting. The amazing thing about all the decades of Miles' career is that they are each brilliant in their own way. I always ask myself what my desert island disc would be and if I could only take one—and it's a horrible question for me—but I think Bitches Brew would definitely be up for consideration."

Listening to Dinosaur's Together, As One, whether it be Jurd's searing trumpet lines or Elliott Galvin's Fender Rhodes/Hammond organ textures, and the Davis connection is perhaps a little obvious. Scratch just a little below the surface, however, and there are plenty of other influences at play as well, from minimalism to contemporary classical music, and from European folk elements to Scandinavian cool.

"I think it's an inevitability because of a lot of the music I've listened to," says Jurd of these influences. "I really love a lot of minimalism—Steve Reich is a big influence on me, so I can definitely hear some of that in places on the album. Yeah, harmonically sometimes it comes from a less jazzy world. There's Rhodes on a piece which is probably quite influenced by the likes of John Tavener and Arvo Part , and maybe Stravinsky as well—all kinds of things, I guess, but they're the main things that come to mind from a non-jazz world."

For Jurd, however seemingly disparate the sources of inspiration may seem, it's all part of the same musical melting pot for the twenty six year-old trumpeter. "Classical music is as much an influence on me as jazz music, whether it's with Dinosaur or a string quartet or an orchestra, or whatever. I'm just trying to find a way to include improvising musicians and to bring all my influences together, I guess."

Though Davis is her current muse, it was another jazz trumpeter that first sparked Jurd's imagination. "I really got into jazz listening to a lot of Chet Baker," she says. "I also really love the Italian trumpet player Enrico Rava. I went through a period of being really obsessed with his albums. I think he's perhaps very influenced by the way Miles plays. He's very different but he has a great sound. Later on I got into some Norwegian trumpet players like Arve Henrikksen and Mathias Eick."

The second track on Together, As One, "Robin," begins with a keyboard intro from Elliot Galvin that has the distinctive feel and clarity of an English folk song. "I have to say I'm a bit of a philistine when it comes to folk music," admits Jurd, "however, I'm very draw to the sounds of it. For some reason those English and Celtic folk sounds really resonate with me. I also like a lot of British twentieth century classical composers like Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett. They are really huge influences and quite life changing. It probably rubs off."

The music that would become Together, As One evolved over time, though there were already signs of the direction Jurd wanted to take when the group performed in Dublin—as the LJQ—at 12 Points 2015.

"We didn't play any of the music from Together, As One at 12 Points, but we were certainly heading in that direction," Jurd explains. "The music at 12 Points was music I wrote for the band just before the Together, As One music. It was almost there but not quite right. I ended up not wanting to record any of that music. It was part of a process but it didn't make the cut," she laughs. "But we did a short tour of just three or four dates to play the music before we recorded it."

For this new album, Jurd and Dinosaur were picked up by Edition Records, one of the fastest rising and most progressive European labels specializing in jazz/related music and classical music. In just a few short years Edition has released high quality, beautifully produced recordings by the likes of Girls in Airports, Thomas Gould, Tim Garland, Oddarrang, Daniel Herskedal, Verneri Pohjola, Phronesis, Morten Schantz, Eyolf Dale and Alexi Tuomarila, to name but a handful.

Clearly, the move to such an ambitious, professional label was a good one. "It's been really brilliant to be part of a label with such great artists and the timing of it all worked really well," says Jurd, "because I was just starting to think about the Dinosuar album and when I was going to release it. I was pretty sure I didn't want to self-release again because I didn't feel I could do it justice."

Happily, Edition Records' head Dave Stapleton was interested in recording Dinosaur. "Everything seemed to fall into place," says Jurd, who is full of praise for Stapleton and the Edition team. "I was very happy to work very closely with Dave, also in terms of the artwork and the presentation of it—all the press, which really gave the album such a boost. I don't think I could have achieved that doing it alone," Jurd admits. "I have a lot of admiration for just how hard Dave works. It's pretty incredible what he's achieved against all the odds. It takes a lot of persistence."

The same could be said of Jurd and her colleagues in Dinosaur. The four musicians met while studying music at Trinity College of Music [now called the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance]. "Elliot [Galvin] and I were in the same year, Connor [Chaplin] and Corrie [Dick] in the year below, so we all crossed paths immediately. I actually knew Connor a year or so before the other guys because we went to the same Sixth Form College," Jurd explains.

"Upon hearing each of them I was immediately struck by their individuality—real musicianship from each player. We were all about nineteen when we started out. It was very serendipitous. That I stumbled across the band that I feel good about, both on a social and musical level, at such an early age and for it to just work is just really luck. I feel really lucky."

All four musicians are involved in various projects. Galvin leads his own group, whose two recordings as leader in his own right, Dreamland (Chaos Collective, 2015) and Punch (Edition Records, 2016), have both received general critical acclaim; Chaplin and Dick are both in demand in a wide variety of settings. Yet despite the pull of outside opportunities, Dinosaur is in no danger of becoming extinct any time soon. "I think the other guys think of Dinosaur as a big part of their lives," says Jurd. "We manage to plan everything well in advance and it works somehow. We're in our seventh year now, which is pretty cool."

Jurd too, is much sought after as both an improviser and as a composer. In 2015 the trumpeter became a BBC3 New Generation Artist, a two-year residency program awarded to promising young artists. "Over the course of those two years you have various opportunities, the main thing being quite a lot of radio broadcasts, perhaps more concentrated than normal," explains Jurd. "There are opportunities to record and broadcast with whoever you like really, and do projects of your choice. During the London Jazz Festival [2016] I wrote a piece for the BBC Concert Orchestra, which was a great opportunity. That was with Dinosaur."

The support of the BBC 3 New Generation Artist scheme has extended beyond raising Jurd's profile via national radio. "They also helped to make the album happen," continues Jurd. "They helped fund some of the album, which was a really great help at the time. It helped us make a really nice job of it in terms of the mixing and mastering."

With Jurd involved as a BBC 3 New Generation Artist throughout the remainder of 2017 there are still, she says, a few more things in the pipeline. "Dinosaur is playing a concert at the Wigmore Hall in July, which is also part of that scheme. We're going to play acoustically for that, so it's going to be a slightly different concert to our usual ones."

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