It’s amazing when you realise that trumpet player and composer Laura Jurd and her Dinosaur buddies, Elliott Galvin (keys), Corrie Dick (drums) and Conor Chaplin (bass) have been making music together for a decade now. Three albums in and one Mercury Prize nomination down, they’ve been through the ‘bright new things’ experience, ruffled attention within the indie scene but managed to remain resilient and focused on the possibilities of the music that they make together. Their latest album ‘To the Earth’ was released this May into the COVID vortex and, without the automatic media heat associated with London nu-jazz or the chance to play the new tunes live, could have missed out on the attention that it deserves.
Well, thanks to the ever resourceful London Jazz Festival, Dinosaur at last got the chance on Sunday night to showcase the exceptional ‘To the Earth’ set to a (virtually) live audience, direct from the sleek Kings Place stage. Starting the set with the title track, it was clear that the band had gone for a more natural acoustic approach in their latest music. This didn’t mean that Dinosaur were necessarily reining in their ambitions, they were just going about them in a different way. As ‘To the Earth’ unravelled on stage from jaunty opening melody to spikey pumping funk to fractured scrabbling breakdowns, you were reassured that nothing was going to be lost from the band’s formidable soundscape.
The gig’s second tune, ‘Slow Loris’, also confirmed that Elliott Galvin had resisted the temptation to ditch the synths entirely as he paced out the ominous walking intro on his mini alongside Conor Chaplin’s bass. The opening highlighted the playful, witty side of Dinosaur with its spooky pastiche and ‘look behind you’ vibe before ‘Slow Loris’ slithered onto more serious endeavours. As the rhythm section pushed up the tempo and the tension Jurd conjured up one of her shape shifting solos as a counter, squeezing out melody lines, leaving those crying notes to hang and introducing textures from somewhere beyond the trumpet’s capacity.
Taking the set-list from the album running order ‘Mosking’ was next up. Here the release and relief of performing on stage shone from the screen as the quartet explored a long improv section to lead into the main tune. Corrie Dick clattered and scattered every rim and rivet of his kit while the others traded broken phrases and snatches of sound before settling into their unified groove. Each time an improv breakdown returned it got wilder and more dynamic before ‘Mosking’ gently eased away with Jurd coaxing extraordinary throat singing sounds from her trumpet over Galvin’s tinkling synth.
When speaking about the shift in approach on the ‘To the Earth’ album Laura Jurd has been quick to point out that ‘… jazz (in its most typical form) has always played a huge role in my life and the life of this band’. In Sunday’s show that connection with tradition seemed to seep even closer to the surface on the final three numbers. The only cover on the LP and in the live set, Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Absinthe’, retained a hint of uplifting Ellington swing and mixed it with Dinosaur’s deconstructed, fractured blues. It was a heady concoction. Their penultimate number ‘Banning Street Blues’ seemed almost conventional by comparison but the agile melody lines, Jurd’s rasping trumpet and Galvin’s chiming chords still thrilled. It was a little bit Weather Report, a little bit Canterbury prog and a whole lot of Dinosaur singular ideas.
After a short pause where the ovation would have been, the band decided to play out with ‘For One’ a brief soulful modern blues, unfussy, unhurried and resonant of EST at their most pensive. As the rhythm section set up a deep emotional pulse, Jurd’s trumpet notes drifted above, sometimes sharp and clean, sometimes muted and distant. When the tune finished it seemed to hang in the air for a moment while the four players looked at each other, realising that the time had passed. For those of us who had tuned in with them for that hour it had been a privilege to be close to their zone.
Photos courtesy of London Jazz Festival.