CD Review 11/10/2018
"Enough" by Laura Cole
I should start this review with a disclaimer, that Laura Cole is an old friend and colleague of mine, and I know her work intimately. I've played with her in her band and many others, and have always been a massive fan of her very particular virtuosity. An especially memorable gig was with her and the producer of this album, Corey Mwamba, at which I was frankly embarrassed at my inability to operate at their sky-high level of melodic and harmonic understanding.
The harmonic integrity of Laura's playing is one of the stand out features of this release. On the second disc, all her own compositions/improvisations, she follows her music's own direction, allowing it to dictate each next step as logically and intuitively as J.S. Bach or Monk, while simultaneously suggesting many other possible directions; routes hinted at and somehow fully fleshed out, despite never being followed. There is room for the listener's own imagination in this music – it offers so many options, so discretely, that it never tells you what to hear, rather allowing you to hear all the directions the composer hears. Essentially the only difference between being composer of and listener to this music is that, as a listener, one doesn't get to make the final decision.
The other striking aspect of this release is its understatement. If music can be under-composed, can it also be under-improvised? If so, and if it's possible to use that term as a positive, then I would describe this music thus. Like John Taylor, Cole plays the minimum possible to convey her idea, and keep it alive. I think it's why her work is often underappreciated. She rarely flies around the keyboard, rarely uses conventional jazz language, and more usually leaves a note unplayed if it is not crucial to the music. This aspect of her playing really stands out in a solo context. She gives us the idea, often goes on to frame it perfectly yet obliquely, and then moves on. This is not to say that ideas or lines are not developed over time, rather that they are allowed to evolve organically, never forced into places they do not wish to be in.
A final aspect to note is that this is a double CD album. The first disc features recordings of tunes by Cole's friends and peers (including myself), and the difference in music between the two discs is quite striking. Simply put, her approach to compositions by others seems to be to serve the song as much as possible – she puts her stamp on each one, often reharmonising or recontextualising music to show her view of each piece – but always allows its original character to breathe. In the same way that looking at a building or sculpture from a different angle can allow us to understand new aspects of it, Cole's reintepretations show us these pieces in a new light. She often starts at a point quite far away from the original music, before sneaking us into the main body of the piece almost without us noticing. Nardis is introduced with the B7 Cmajor7 progression from its third and fourth bars, but played out of context. The original melody floats around what is actually being played, while never being stated. The middle eight then emerges, but played with a Jarrett-like gospel quality, becoming a disconcertingly conventionally beautiful passage among much more oblique music. The whole piece is somehow represented more fully through never being explicitly played.
Always beautiful, often troubling, and deeply moving, this record is a masterpiece of understatement and integrity. Cole ought to be celebrated as one of the greats of British improvised music after this release. Always fiercely true to herself and her conception, this album nevertheless generously welcomes anyone with open ears and a desire to hear. All you have to do is listen!