I was introduced to Laura Jurd’s music by my friend Andy Baker about ten years ago. He said he thought I would like it. At the time she had just released Landing Ground, and he was absolutely right: I loved it. She was only 22 at the time.
Jurd is a trumpet player, and I think that perhaps the only reason that we don’t talk about her more is that she’s based in the U.K. (and Andy was able to tell me about her because from what I understand, every single person in the U.K. knows each other, even if they haven’t lived there for 20 years). I haven’t seen a whole lot of coverage of her here - the last thing I read was an honestly sort of, well, let’s call it “unenlightened” short blurb in one of our major jazz publications that found it absolutely mind-blowing that a new mother could also find the time to make good music.
I never left Landing Ground – it’s a terrific album for trumpet, piano, bass, drums, and a string quartet. It was one of the albums I revisited heavily in the last few years as I worked on my own project with strings. Landing Ground established Jurd as a compositional force – her unique approach showcased long forms, a sophisticated (and creative) sound palette, a folk music influence that didn’t force itself upon the listener.
I will admit that I missed out on some of the work she did in the following years – I didn’t hear Human Spirit when it was new, and I only briefly engaged with the albums she released with her group Dinosaur, Together, as One in 2016, Wonder Trail in 2018, and To The Earth in 2020. These albums are all worth checking out. Wonder Trail, especially, has some fabulous music on it.
But I was absolutely blown away by her 2019 album Stepping Back, Jumping In. This album was like very little else I have ever heard in the jazz world. The compositions feel almost symphonic, despite the small group format. She further expands her sound world, bringing in tasteful electronics while keeping some of the strings that she used on Landing Ground. And her compositional patience is on full display, allowing sections to slowly develop for minutes at a time while she sits on the sidelines letting it happen. Other sections feel more like contemporary classical music, or perhaps a horror movie score, than anything else.
To put it plainly: there are some things on Stepping Back, Jumping In that are profoundly original, but all done in a way that feels in service to the music itself rather than merely to originality. In the jazz world I fear that we too often make originality the only goal, and honestly I think a lot of jazz criticism too often gives credit for the originality itself without considering the product as a whole. I’m wading into waters that are probably too deep for me, here, but my point is: Stepping Back, Jumping In is like nothing I’ve ever heard, but I also absolutely love listening to it.
Today, I finally got around to listening to Jurd’s latest release, The Big Friendly Album, which was released a couple of weeks ago. It is a revelation. It’s a joyful listening experience (which you might expect given the title and its equally charming cover artwork, pictured here), but the fact that the music is light-hearted does not make it any shallower than her previous work. Here, too, we’re getting immense small group compositions that play out more like the symphonic works of the modern jazz big band greats. And I was especially struck by Jurd’s trumpet playing, which I feel has a layer of confidence and swagger on this album that is a level above the (very good) playing she did on her previous albums. The sounds that she can get out of the small ensembles she works with are incredible. The folk music influence is still present, but there’s also an element of what almost feels to me like alt-rock riffs of the late 1990s here (there was a heavy rock influence on Human Spirit, too).
She’s become the total package. One of the best jazz writers working today, with incredible vision and command of her sound (as both a composer and trumpet player). She writes the music that I wish I could write. And as it has become harder for me to find music that I connect deeply with, I am grateful for what she has done thus far in her young career.