Laura Cole is a jazz composer/pianist who lives in Leeds but whose band (Metamorphic) is based in London. Metamorphic features, Kerry Andrew (vocals), Chris Williams (alto),John Martin (tenor/soprano), Paul Sandy (bass), Tom Greenhalgh (drums).
Metamorphic will play in Jazz in the Round at the Cockpit Theatre on Monday January 28th. They also have a gig at the Vortex on the 24th February with Frank Byng’s (Slowfoot Records) quintet, Snorkel.
Laura also has a blog which discusses the issues that women face in music and holds a First Class Honours Degree in Jazz from Middlesex University.
Rob Edgar interviewed Laura Cole:
Rob Edgar Laura, one thing that seems to come through in your music is that you seem to take a bit of a ‘back seat’ in your playing preferring not to ‘over-play’. Is this intentional?
Laura Cole: I suppose it is in a way, although it’s more about me feeling comfortable in myself when I play, and with whom I play. This is really important to me, as I had to have a few years off due to severe repetitive strain injury and depression…
RE: …Which is what formed the inspiration for your first album isn’t it?
LC: Yes, The Rock Between, was very much about reflecting on and attempting to translate what had happened to me, when I became ill (I was in the 2nd year of the jazz degree at Middlesex – I had to postpone finishing the degree) I was very sensitive to pressure psychologically, real or imagined. So aside from physically not being able to do flashy solos (or play at all in the end!) psychologically I wasn’t really able to either, as it felt like pressure somehow. Once I got back into music through composing I realised that there were other ways in which the music could come out and this was a big relief. I realised that I was much more comfortable thinking of myself as an improviser rather than a soloist and I prefer the spotlight to be on us as a band, rather me being singled out for whatever reason.
RE: What is the new album ‘Coalescence‘ about?
LC: This album is about a consolidation, of bringing things together again; I wanted our second album to be about moving forward. I was really pleased with the title I decided on for the album, as I feel the word coalescence really reflects this. I also wanted a word with ‘coal’ in it- as coal is a metamorphic rock and is also very close to my last name- and I like the way coalescence sounds like ‘Cole’-essence.
RE: How do you go about composing? What is your process?
LC: I tend to build my compositions around grooves and short chord progressions that I like. I then jam these out myself at the piano, and see how they develop. I then fix a few things and get them down in Sibelius. From there it’s a question of hearing how the other instruments in the band might lock into what I’ve written. I find I can hear how this can work -most of the time!- as I picture and hear the musicians in my band playing what I’ve written, maybe as we’ve been together a while as a band I can sort of re-imagine the sound and vibe. With the exception of one or two more strictly composed pieces, I feel the music can evolve through rehearsing and gigging. Often, even though my compositions are original pieces, I have a funny sense that I’ve heard them before, that they’ve already kind of existed in another realm, and I kind of snatch them up. With arranging this is a bit of a different process. I feel a bit like a magpie taking favourite sections, grooves or progressions from some of my favourite songs and kind of sticking them together, with some compositional ideas of my own.
I like the challenge of this, of making these kind of musical collages sound like whole pieces. Little Woman, Lonely Wing is an example of this in Coalescence, which incorporates Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing and Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman. There a quite a few pieces on The Rock Between in which I explored this collage idea too.
RE: Despite your collage approach to composing, storytelling plays a big part in your music. In ‘Puma'[first track of ‘Coalescence’] (LISTEN HERE) it’s quite apparent…
LC: This piece is about a powerful dream I had about becoming a puma. I wrote the words originally as a poem, so I think this is why I wanted to use the spoken word, to really emphasise the words; and also to try and convey the intimacy of being asleep. For the groove section in the middle, this is sung to give a greater dynamic range, to try and convey the frantic feeling of being chased…
RE: The second track ‘What is Real’ follows on almost imperceptibly from ‘Puma’. It actually seems as though the album was conceived as one long piece.
LC: I really like fusing pieces together to create a narrative, almost like questions and answers sometimes, or to develop ideas. Musically I wanted the album to have a certain light and shade, with surprises and contrasts, but that could be heard as a piece of music that hung together as a whole somehow, with a narrative. This was a challenge but I hope that the sense of this comes across. You rightly pointed out that originally this album was conceived as one big piece of music with no breaks- Will Worsley, the fantastic engineer who mixed and mastered the album, advised that the listener needed a breather here and there!
RE: The vocals are interesting in that some of the music seems to serve as a backing for the storyteller (the vocalist) but at other times they’re blended with the rest of the instruments and become another texture
LC: I am really interested in the vocals being used in an instrumental way, I like the texture this brings and I think it is interesting to add words too but not as the main focus as is the way with maybe more traditional ‘jazz’ singing. I think this can maybe be a bit confusing or unexpected on the ear for some people on first listening for that reason, but I like the element of mystery and surprise I think this can bring.
Kerry Andrew has come from a classical and folk background and I think I’d be right in saying that this has come very naturally for her to do this. It’s interesting you use the word blend, I think the front line blends really well actually, they have worked hard at that, and I am always in admiration of them for doing this so effectively.
Rob Edgar When will the new album be available?
Laura Cole:The album is due out on April 22nd. I should also mention that; I’ve decided to dedicate it to the memory of my great-grandfather, Sidney Walker, who was an accomplished silent film pianist and violinist; Sidney died at the age of just forty five from tuberculosis in 1939.