PHOTO: © Paolo Chiabrando/Unsplash


In the organizer's words:

You can hardly talk about Michael League and Bill Laurance without mentioning Snarky Puppy. American bassist and multi-instrumentalist Michael League founded the globally acclaimed, four-time GRAMMY award-winning collective almost 20 years ago. And British pianist and keyboardist Bill Laurance has been part of this global adventure for almost as long. The fact that League and Laurance are presenting their first joint duo album, Where You Wish You Were, seems both surprising and logical. Especially in view of Michael League, who, unlike with Snarky Puppy, can be heard here primarily on the oud and other acoustic stringed instruments and emphasizes: "We are so much more than the part of the most popular band we belong to." And Bill Laurance adds: "A joint album was only a matter of time. Michael and I have been close friends for 20 years and have worked together in so many different areas - with Snarky Puppy, my own band and with other artists. And so we know each other inside out and it feels extremely natural to play as a duo."
Unlike their large-scale project Snarky Puppy, which recently filled London's Wembley Arena, Laurance and League were obsessed with the idea of reduction for their duo. The recordings offered a long-awaited opportunity to explore the intimacy, fragility and clarity of the relationship between two musicians. "Michael and I have long been driven by the idea of pushing boundaries. That's important, but this album is different," Laurance recalls. "Every single compositional idea carries a lot of weight, and everything has a very specific purpose. There was no rhythm section to hide behind, it was really all about melody and harmony. And we instinctively tried to create a place that listeners would want to visit, that felt peaceful, safe and warm. Because we have the feeling that today, perhaps more than ever, there is a need for such places."
In addition to the duo format with its reduced, concentrated approach, what is particularly surprising are the tonal and stylistic ingredients of the music. Bill Laurance, who otherwise often relies on a combination of piano and a variety of synthesizers and orchestral arrangements, focuses here on the sound of the acoustic grand piano, prepared only with a little damping felt.
And Michael League, otherwise known primarily as an electric bassist fueled by jazz and groove, plays a series of mostly fretless stringed instruments of Mediterranean and Oriental origin - above all the oud, but also acoustic and electric guitars specially constructed for him as well as the West African lute "ngoni". All instruments with a vocal quality and possibilities of intonation that go far beyond classical Western ideas of intervals and harmonies.
The musical proximity to the Mediterranean region has accompanied Michael League since his childhood and is even more influenced by his current adopted home of Spain: "My family is of Greek descent and my brother is a specialist in Greek folk music. So I held an oud in my hand for the first time when I sneaked into his room at the age of 14. Greek and Turkish music was always playing in our family home and over the last ten years or so I've been visiting Turkey to learn more about the music of the region. I love playing the oud, but having never really taken lessons, my relationship with the instrument is somewhat immature. However, my oud mentor, the great Armenian-American musician Ara Dinkjian, has insisted that I develop my voice on the instrument without formal, traditional study. He likes the unconventional way I play it - almost like a blues slide guitar. And he's excited to see what happens if I continue down this path."
And so Where You Wish You Were has not become a world jazz fusion album and was never intended as such. "Bill and I are very clear that this project has nothing to do with imitating regional, long-established styles," League emphasizes. "We want to create something that is unique, even if it contains certain elements of established musical genres." And so it is, as is so often the case in the musical world that is now referred to as "jazz": The two musicians' cosmos of personal, musical and sonic influences serve not to delineate or categorize, but rather as a vocabulary for their own distinctive expression. And with its compositions focused entirely on melody, harmony and space, its warm sound and the soulful playing of the two musicians, it creates a place that you dream yourself into while listening to it and return to again and again.
On March 2, 2024, the Bill Laurance & Michael League invite us to dream together in the Small Hall of the Laeiszhalle.

This content has been machine translated.
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Laeiszhalle - Musikhalle Hamburg Johannes-Brahms-Platz 20355 Hamburg

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