Laura Jurd and her sextet perform at the Granary on Friday 30 September, celebrating Laura’s new album release. Kate Romano spoke to Laura about making Big Friendly Tunes…
‘I like music that surprises you in a way that feels familiar…’ ponders trumpeter, cornettist and composer Laura Jurd. ‘You know… when the unexpected has a feeling of inevitability’. We’re chatting about her new project; The Big Friendly Album. Drawing on Scottish folk traditions (Jurd is part Scottish) filtered through jazz, it's a big-hearted, feel-good celebration, which wears its complexities and intriguing subtleties lightly. Or, as Jurd puts it, ‘I like the nitty-gritty and intricacies of composition, but in a way that isn’t noticeable’
The album artwork (shown above) by illustrator Sarah Wilson was a critical early stage part of the project. Quirky, dream-like figures with generous proportions - both robust and improbable - helped Jurd to establish the ‘world’ that the music inhabits. ‘I wanted to make an album that sounded like a big friendly version of my music’ she explains ‘and I wanted the potential to go to a Rock-y place with people I knew’. Warmth and camaraderie permeate the whole creative process. The stellar ensemble were hand selected by Jurd for their talent and instant affinity with the concept of the album. There’s a three-horn frontline (Laura Jurd on cornet, Martin Lee Thomson on euphonium, Danielle Price on tuba) plus guitar (Alex Haines), bass (Ruth Goller) and drums (Corrie Dick). Jurd also plays acoustic and electric piano and the album features renowned guest soloists: flautist Finn Peters, accordionist Frode Haltli, violinist Dylan Bates and saxophonist Mark Lockheart.
Laura Jurd came to wider attention in 2015 as a young winner of the British Parliamentary Jazz Awards and with her quartet Dinosaur whose album Together as One was nominated for the Mercury prize in 2017. Whilst Jurd continually evolves as an artist, there’s a consistently infectious quality about her music which surpasses stylistic jazz scenes or trends. One of the most attractive and enigmatic qualities of her music are the repeating block-like structures (Stravinsky is a strong influence) which refuse to build to emotionally-charged climaxes. Tightly notated (improvisation does not largely feature), the blocks form a familiar pattern upon which she places unexpected juxtapositions: a splash of alt-Rock, a blues melody, a New Orleans marching band. The solidity of the track PentaTONIC is offset by quivering and pulsating electronics. Henry (named after her 7-month old son) has a simplicity and playfulness interspersed with little bouts of mischief. You can’t help smiling.
John Fordham in The Guardian.wrote that Jurd’s music often suggests wordless songs. It’s an apt description of her verse-chorus structures which can sound uncannily like songs-you-once-knew. ‘Without spoken language, melody and harmony can be very powerful and explicit’ says Jurd. ‘I was conscious that each piece on this album should emit a very clear emotional energy. And I want it to feel like someone can come away and know the tunes’. As I write this, two days after our conversation, I’m suddenly aware of a distant, toe-tapping brass-fuelled party band playing somewhere in my head. It's music you’ll want to become friends with.
7 month Henry checks the artwork for the vinyl edition of The Big Friendly Album