Bill Laurance & Michael League
Biography Bill Laurance & Michael League
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.