It’s just over two years since a 21-year-old Laura Jurd released Landing Ground, her unnervingly assured debut album. Human Spirit is the follow up, due for release on 19 January and now touring the UK. On the evidence of Wednesday night’s launch at the Forge, it’s a worthy successor – every bit as impressive as the young trumpeter’s first outing, but markedly different.
The strings have been ditched in favour of a brass heavy front line, comprising Jurd, trumpeter Chris Batchelor and trombonist Colm O’Hara, while a monster of a bass saxophone takes care of the low end – with help from Mick Foster, its bearded keeper. The rest of the group – vocalist Lauren Kinsella,guitarist Alex Roth and drummer Corrie Dick – are Jurd’s bandmates from art rock/improv group Blue-Eyed Hawk and their inclusion is telling.
In ‘Opening Sequence’, the rich harmonies and folksy trumpet lines of Landing Ground made a return, but it wasn’t long before we were in Blue-Eyed Hawk territory. ‘She Knew Him’ saw Foster drop the first of many rumbling bass grooves as Jurd launched into a bluesy solo, heavy on the wah-wah pedal, and Roth kicked his guitar into overdrive. One of the highlights of the set, ‘Brighter Days’ juxtaposed reeling melody lines with a ponderous brass chorale, shifting between a series of complex grooves before descending into chaos.
‘Pirates’ brought further anarchy, plus a story book vocal narrative set to a reggae backbeat, and there was even more going on in the album’s title track. It opened with a spidery guitar riff and a slow moving verse. From there a grunge-rock chorus launched a stinger of a solo from Chris Batchelor followed by a funk groove, shot through with horn section injections that sounded like gleefully misplaced samples. Just as it was grinding to a halt, Foster and Jurd ushered in a second churning, head-nodder of a bassline and the rest of the band piled back in. The rhythm section rocked out as Kinsella whooped and trilled and Batchelor reached for his plunger mute to give the audience the full Goldfinger.
Sudden shifts between light and dark became the order of the day, and ‘More Than Just A Fairy Tale’ brought yet another when its gently rolling theme was derailed by a slide-shredding O’Hara trombone solo. Rounding out the set, ‘Closing Sequence’ was both warm and unsettling with a haunting vamp that bled into the texture towards the end.
In its essence Human Spirit is Blue-Eyed Hawk meets Landing Ground with horns. It’s jabberwocky music; a thrilling mish mash of references and styles that makes for a rollercoaster of a live set. If Jurd’s debut was unnervingly accomplished, then Human Spirit is edgy, irreverent and brave. It doesn’t look for approval, it just makes you sit up and listen.
– Thomas Rees