Dinosaur: The Jazz Underdogs Who Wrote The Best Album Of 2017


Written by Oscar Henson
16 Wednesday 16th August 2017

This year’s Mercury Prize nominations were remarkable for two reasons.

The first was the inclusion of someone incredibly famous: Ed Sheeran, who was shortlisted for his sophomore album, Divide. Although all UK acts are technically eligible, it is unusual to see such a chart-friendly addition make the list - let alone a bestselling album from one of the biggest pop stars on the planet.

The second reason for excitement regarded the inclusion of a group of complete unknowns: Dinosaur, a young 4-piece band from London, whose instrumental debut Together, As One found its way on to this year’s list alongside albums by Alt J, Stormzy, Kate Tempest and J Hus.



Seeing an album from an unknown artist isn’t remarkable in itself  – the Mercury Prize is well known for shedding light on breakthrough acts, and has frequently been awarded to debut albums – but Dinosaur’s inclusion felt particularly surprising.

The album is entirely instrumental, drawing mainly on jazz, but also on modern classical and spiritual music. Sure, it has a poppy backbone: the songs are melody-driven and reasonably straight forward in structure, making them accessible in a way that lots of jazz isn’t. But the fact remains that this is a jazz album – a complex, sprawling, brilliant one at that – and the inclusion of an instrumental jazz album on a list almost exclusively dominated by guitar bands, dance acts and singer-songwriters is a surprise, and a welcome one at that.

This year’s winner will be announced on 14th September. Ahead of the date, we asked Dinosaurs' lead trumpeter, Laura Jurd how it felt to be nominated. She was also kind enough to create us a playlist of tracks that inspired the album - press play on the YouTube video at the bottom of the article to hear tracks by Deerhoof, Steve Reich, Miles Davis, Gorillaz and more.



DP: First of all – congrats on making the Mercury shortlist. It’s pretty rare to see an instrumental jazz album included. Were you surprised by the nomination?

LJ: I was very surprised. I knew we had entered the album as a contender for the shortlist, but it had gone completely out of my mind. It's amazing for an instrumental band like ours to be amongst the other artists on the shortlist.


Was it a conscious aim of yours to create an album that might crossover and find fans from backgrounds outside of jazz? What external influences did you bring into play on this record?

When making music I'm as much a listener as I am a creative artist. The album is very much a summary of sounds that have excited me over the years. The challenge, as always, is how I can translate that to the instrumentation of the band. I'm heavily inspired by music outside the realms of jazz. Music by the likes of Deerhoof, Gorillaz, Steve Reich, Benjamin Britten, African-American spirituals etc. all in various ways, influence parts of the album. As a result, I guess it's natural that the music is accessible to a wide range of music fans. I'm very happy that this is the case.


You’ve been releasing solo music since 2012. How did all of that build up and in to where you are now? How and why did the Dinosaur group come about?

My first album 'Landing Ground' was the result of a self-instigated compositional project whilst at music college. I was very keen to develop my skills writing for a string quartet plus improvisers and spent a long time exploring that idiom. I ended up with a portfolio of compositions that I felt it was important to document. This ended up being my debut album. Whilst I never particularly planned to make an album, it felt like the right time. After that, I began a project, 'Human Spirit', writing for vocals and a 'street band-like' line-up having been commissioned by the London Jazz Festival. This was another really exciting ensemble that the composer in me relished writing for - with bass saxophone, brass, guitar - loads of great noises! Whilst all of these things were going on, Dinosaur - then known as the Laura Jurd Quartet, was busy playing gigs in London and around the UK. I love to play music to people, so playing live was always something I kept simmering along. Over the years, our sound as a band has benefitted hugely from playing live, as well as our individual skills as instrumentalists. The repertoire I was writing for the band was also developing into something more cohesive and distinctive - that's a journey I'm still on and I hope will always be on! The Laura Jurd Quartet became a fond memory and important stepping stone into which Dinosaur was born.



What do you think of the other artists on the list? Is there anything you particularly like on there? What, if anything, would you say your music has in common with these artists?

I really like Alt-J's album - it has a great energy yet and is full of beautiful, little sonic surprises. There's so many characterful sounds and timbres on the record and the production is really creative. I love the fact that it's a meeting place for so many different musical cultures. It's very rootsy too which I love. It's got a primal, human energy that I'm very drawn to and something I'm always keen to communicate in my own music.


What albums would you have put on this year’s list?

I'm not really sure what albums would be eligible in terms of the time-frame. That's a boring answer isn't it?! Anna Meredith's album 'Varmints' is very cool. Also 'Patience' by The Invisible. They were both released last year I think.


What next for Dinosaur and Laura Jurd?

I've recently finished writing a second album for the band that we're recording in the autumn. We have some live dates in the lead up to recording where we'll be bringing the music to life on stage, in preparation for making the album. Next year, we'll be properly releasing the music into the wild and touring the album around the UK and beyond. In terms of the music, the instrumentation remains the same, however our sound design in terms of synths etc. has developed. The spirit of 'Together, As One' remains, however, I'm always looking to learn and build from previous experiences and creations, to make something which feels fresh and new. The journey continues...



Check out Laura's 'Album Inspirations' playlist below, featuring music by Deerhoof, Steve Reich, Miles Davis, Gorillaz and more.



Dinosaur's 'Together, As One' is out now on Edition Records.


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