Where You Wish You Were Bill Laurance & Michael League
Label: ACT Music
Subgenre: Contemporary Jazz
Artist: Bill Laurance & Michael League
Album including Album cover Booklet (PDF)
- 1La Marinada02:35
- 2Meeting of the Mind03:25
- 3Round House05:12
- 4Sant Esteve03:30
- 7Anthem for a Tiny Nation02:28
- 8Ngoni Baby02:24
- 10Where You Wish You Were01:34
Info for Where You Wish You Were
Snarky Puppy founder, multi-instrumentalist and Grammy winner Michael League and cossover piano icon Bill Laurance take us to an imaginary place full of beauty, peace and energy. Musical escapism, world jazz 2.0 and an invitation to a place where we wish to be.
A mere mention of the names of Michael League and Bill Laurance makes one think of Snarky Puppy. It is now nearly twenty years since Southern California-born bassist/multi-instrumentalist Michael League founded the globally acclaimed, four-time GRAMMY award-winning collective. As for keyboardist Bill Laurance, originally from London, he has been a part of the globe-trotting adventure for nearly as long as League has. So the fact that League and Laurance are now releasing "Where you Wish you Were", their first duo album together, does feel at the same time like a logical development...and also a surprise. Michael League takes a very different role here from the one he does in Snarky Puppy. On "Where you Wish you Were", he is to be heard mainly playing the oud and other acoustic stringed instruments. He takes the view that “we are so much more than the roles we play in the most popular band that we're a part of.” And Bill Laurance adds: "It was only a matter of time before we'd make a record by ourselves. We've been close friends for 20 years now and we've worked together in so many different capacities - with Snarky Puppy, my own band, and in collaboration with other artists. So it just felt like it was a natural thing to do."
Laurance and League became completely taken by the idea of doing something totally different from Snarky Puppy, which is a project on such a large scale, it recently filled London's 12,500-capacity Wembley Arena. The pair kept the idea in mind to reduce the music down to a scale where it could be played by their duo. The recording offered a long-awaited opportunity to explore the intimacy, fragility and clarity which exist within the relationship between two musicians; it was something which they were both keen to achieve. "I think both Michael and I are driven by the idea to push boundaries, which is important. But this album is different," Laurance recalls. “Every single compositional idea has a lot of weight to it, and everything has very specific purpose. There was no rhythm section to hide behind, it was really just about melody and chords. And we were instinctively trying to create a place where people want to go to, that felt comforting. We feel that now, maybe more than ever, there is a need for such places.”
What is particularly surprising, apart from the duo format with its reduced, concentrated approach, is the particular sonic and stylistic character of the music. Bill Laurance, who with his own projects and also with Snarky Puppy, often relies on a mixture of piano and a variety of synthesizers, orchestral arrangements and digital soundscapes, focuses here entirely on the possibilities of an acoustic grand piano, which has been ‘prepared’ with extra felt to dampen the strings. And Michael League, known elsewhere primarily as an electric bassist fired up by jazz and groove, plays a number of mostly fretless stringed instruments of Mediterranean and Oriental origin here – first and foremost the oud, but also a specially constructed acoustic and electric guitar and a West African lute, the ngoni. All these instruments have the quality of being able to imitate the voice, and also offer microtonal possibilities which go way beyond the norms of western music.
These kinds of musical influences have accompanied Michael League since his childhood, and particularly now because his adopted home country, Spain is part of the Mediterranean region: “My family is of Greek ancestry and my brother specializes in Greek folk music, so my first time playing an oud was when I snuck into his room as a 14 year-old. We always had Greek and Turkish music in the house, and over the last almost ten years I've visited Turkey frequently to study. I just love playing the oud but because I've never really taken any lessons, my relationship with the instrument is a bit unrefined. Yet, my oud mentor, the great Armenian-American musician Ara Dinkjian, has been very insistent that I continue to develop my voice on the instrument without formal, traditional studies. He likes the unconventional way in which I approach the instrument. I treat it almost more like a blues slide guitar, and he wants to see what happens if I stay on this course.”
"Where you Wish you Were" has nothing of a world jazz fusion album about it, and was never intended be one. "Bill and I are very clear about not pretending that this project has anything to do with replicating any regional styles with deep roots," emphasises League. "We're committed to creating something that is uniquely ours, even if it retains certain elements of established genres of music." And so it is, as is so often the case in the musical world which is now called "jazz": the universe of personal, musical and sonic influences of the two musicians do not serve to set limits or to categorise, but rather as a vocabulary which allows the two musicians’ own distinctive mode of expression to shine through. With compositions focused entirely on melody, harmony and space, a warm sound and the soulful playing of the two players, League and Laurance have created a place which is not just conducive to dreams; it is a place to which the listener will want to return to again and again.
Bill Laurance, acoustic piano, vocals
Michael League, oud, fretless acoustic bass, fret-less baritone electric guitar, ngoni and voice
Pianist, keyboardist and composer Bill Laurance’s music evokes a striking sense of time and place. As an original member of 4-time Grammy Award-winning, globetrotting, genre-defying group Snarky Puppy, Laurance has toured the world countless times, playing hundreds of concerts to tens of thousands of fans worldwide.
His fearless artistic instincts now see him leaping into a boundary-defying solo soundworld for his fifth album, the cryptically titled, Cables. The first album to be released on Laurance’s newly launched Flint imprint, the record’s eight melodically-rich songs dive deep into multi-layered textures of electro-acoustic keyboards, piano and drum machines. All these components are deployed to give voice to the album’s powerful overarching theme, which Laurance explains: “Cables is my first concept album, which was originally inspired by the film Transcendent Man, a documentary about the controversial technologist Ray Kurtzweil’s prediction that we will have created a conscious robot by the year 2029. While this feels somewhat frightening, I’m equally excited by the idea – it obviously has profound implications for the way our society functions.”
These experiences have fed directly into his four solo albums, with each drawing inspiration from the people and places he’s encountered, often distilling them into powerful musical portraits. This sensory, cinematic dimension to his music has perhaps inevitably led to a move into scoring music for films, most recently for the feature documentary Remember My Name, about the life and career of David Crosby, and his first feature film score for Un Traductor, with both receiving nominations at Sundance Film Festival 2017 and 2018 respectively.
Creating music that retains a human element at its core is the key to Cables’ powerful musical statement – which is one that Laurance admits looks at both the possibilities and perils of our permanently plugged-in world: “There's no question that this album has a darkness to it. I am painting the picture of a dystopian world ruled by technology. But I'm also interested in human interaction with technology. This record is trying to embrace technology and celebrate the coming together of man and machine. As Ray Kurtzweil himself says: God will exist – and we will realise our full potential, when man and machine become one.”
Heartfelt and complex, sophisticated and soulful, menacing and mesmerising, Cables is as reflective as it is exhilarating. Laurance has unveiled his new widescreen musical vision that’s a big step forward for this master of sonic storytelling.
The musical curiosity that lies at the heart of Cables, which is released in March 2019, and follows a frenetic run of solo albums that include Live at the Union Chapel and the African-funk of Aftersun (2016), the strings-led Flint (2014) and electronica edged Swift (2015), are the natural continuation of the 37-year-old Laurance’s lifelong infatuation with the piano. This began with a childhood love of ragtime, while he showed his determination early on by working through the classical grades and earning his keep over three summers of a Soho restaurant residency playing jazz standards.
Attending the University of Leeds, he majored in classical composition and, thanks to the college’s open ethos, also managed to explore jazz, funk and drum’n’bass in his final performance. Since then he’s honed the melodic immediacy of this approach, along with his intense improvisational prowess, forging a distinctive personal style that embraces English classical, electronica and jazz-rock sensibilities, alongside gritty contemporary grooves. In the early-noughties, a twenty-something Laurance was trying to make a living on the Leeds music scene, when an unremarkable but timely pick-up gig presented itself with a young bassist called Michael League in singer Michael Solomon Williams’ band. Gigs in the north of England forged a friendship with League, who happened to be looking for a new piano player, and League invited Laurance to the US to record the first Snarky Puppy album, The Only Constant, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since then, Laurance has clocked up recordings and or performances with such renowned artists as David Crosby, Morcheeba, Salif Keita, Terence Blanchard, Susana Baca, Lalah Hathaway, Laura Mvula, Jacob Collier, Musiq Soul Child, Khalid Sansi, Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke, Carlos Malta, The Metropole Orchestra and the WDR Big Band. He has also worked extensively in the dance world with companies including Alvin Ailey, Ballet Rambert, Matthew Bourne's Adventures in Motion Pictures, Phoenix Dance, Northern Ballet Theatre and the English National Ballet. He's composed music for a variety of different clients including Apple Mac, Sky Broadband, Nokia and Hewlett Packard and is currently working on three separate commissions for Big Band, Orchestra and Choir.
He is a champion of cutting-edge keyboard developments and is endorsed by: Moog, Mellotron, Sequential, Korg, Nord, Roli Seaboard, Yamaha, Roland, Arp Odyssey, Keyscape, Sound Brenner, Native Instruments and MXR. Alongside Laurance’s touring as a solo artist and with Snarky Puppy, he is the Artist in residence at Morley College London, is a passionate educator and continues to give clinics at music institutions all over the world (Mike Flynn, Jazzwise Magazine).
is a 4-time Grammy Award-winning, 5-time Grammy Award-nominated multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer, arranger, songwriter, label owner, and bandleader based in Catalonia, Spain.
As a child of a military family, he was born in southern California and grew up in both Alabama and northern Virginia. Michael attended the University of North Texas' jazz studies program for 4 years, then moved to nearby Dallas for another 3 years, where he worked with some of the most influential figures in modern gospel, R&B, and soul music, and was mentored by legendary keyboardist Bernard Wright (Miles Davis, Chaka Khan) before moving to Brooklyn, New York, in 2009, where he spent 9 years, then relocating to Catalonia, Spain, in late 2018.
Michael runs the instrumental music ensemble Snarky Puppy, whose grass-roots approach to the changing music industry has met major critical and commercial success, as well as four Grammy awards. The first was with Lalah Hathaway on Family Dinner - Volume One for “Best R&B Performance” in 2014, the second in 2016 for “Best Contemporary Instrumental Album” with the Metropole Orkest on Sylva, a 60-minute suite of music written by Michael for the 64-piece ensemble, and the third in 2017 for “Best Contemporary Instrumental Album” with Culcha Vulcha, the band’s first studio album in eight years. Their 2019 release, Live at the Royal Albert Hall, garnered a nomination in the 2020 Grammy Awards. They have been on the cover of both Jazz Times and Downbeat magazines, the feature story in the Sunday Arts section of the New York Times, voted “Best Jazz Group” in Downbeat Reader’s Polls three times, voted “Best New Artist” and “Best Electric/Jazz-Rock/Contemporary Group/Artist” in the Jazz Times Reader’s Poll, and called “one of the most versatile groups on the planet” by Rolling Stone. The band, independent since its inception in 2004, has performed over 1500 times on six continents.
Aside from leading Snarky Puppy, Michael maintains a heavy schedule in multiple capacities. As a multi-instrumentalist and producer, he has worked with a diverse range of artists in pop (Laura Mvula, Lalah Hathaway, Joe Walsh, Michael McDonald, Rufus Wainwright), folk (David Crosby, Chris Thile), gospel (Kirk Franklin, Walter Hawkins, Marvin Sapp, Israel Houghton), jazz (Terence Blanchard, Esperanza Spalding, Joshua Redman, Wayne Krantz, Chris Potter), and world music (Salif Keïta, Eliades Ochoa of the Buena Vista Social Club, Fatoumata Diawara, Bassekou Kouyate, Susana Baca, Kardeş Türküler, Väsen). Michael’s efforts as a bandleader and bassist earned him a chapter in the Random House release "The New Face of Jazz" alongside the likes of Wynton Marsalis and Sonny Rollins, a mention in Nate Chinen’s “Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century,” the cover spot on issues of Bass Player Magazine (the largest bass publication in the world), Bass Musician Magazine, De Bassist Magazine, Jazz Thing Magazine, Jazziz Magazine, and Jazz Times Magazine among others, as well as the honor of Artist-In-Residence at the 2018 North Sea Jazz Festival, becoming the youngest musician in history to do so.
Seeking to capitalize on the music-hungry, audiophile fanbase that developed around Snarky Puppy, Michael launched the imprint GroundUP Music under the umbrella of independent label Ropeadope Records in 2011. He immediately signed eight new, unknown artists including Banda Magda, Bill Laurance, and the Funky Knuckles. With the growth of the label, GroundUP went fully independent in 2016 and accumulated a roster of both well-known and upcoming acts in an ambitious year of over a dozen releases. GroundUP Music launched its first annual music festival in Miami Beach in February 2017 and continues to be a trusted source of music curation for curious listeners worldwide.
In 2016, he started the band Bokanté. Blending influence from blues, rock, Caribbean, and West African styles, the group includes an all-star cast of musicians from 4 different continents. Bokanté spent 2017 touring around the world in support of their debut album, Strange Circles. Their second album, What Heat, a collaboration with the Metropole Orkest under the baton of Jules Buckley, was released in fall of 2018 and nominated for “Best World Music Album” in the 2020 Grammy Awards.
In 2020, Michael recorded his debut solo album, So Many Me, producing it alongside long-time collaborator Nic Hard. Mixing influences from his childhood with recent studies of folkloric musical traditions, the record features him as the sole composer, arranger, and performer. It will be released on GroundUP Music on June 25, 2021.
Michael is passionately committed to music education and outreach, having given clinics and masterclasses at over 200 schools on 6 continents around the world. He is active as a guest speaker in international music business panels and works regularly with non-profit organizations in an effort to better serve the community at large through the arts. In 2020, Michael and GroundUP Music Festival director Paul Lehr launched the GroundUP Music Foundation, dedicated to community enrichment through the arts.