Dark Into Light
The most recent project by singer/multi-instrumentalist Lawrence App, Dark Into Light, was released in December 2004. In an era defined by category fragmentation and hyphenated styles, the disc's nine tunes take stylistic turns somewhere between the realms of acoustic pop, jazz, and world fusion-but in ways pretty unique to Lawrence's background. Originally from a home of jazz musicians, he spent many years on the road and in clubs playing in show bands and reggae groups before returning to school to earn degrees in jazz studies and ethnomusicology. This first solo effort by Lawrence strikes the balance between street-wise and studious; between the visceral and the ethereal, framed in the shifting musical textures and thoughtful lyrics of Dark Into Light. The albums centerpiece is Lawrence's vocals (Songwriter Showcase of America's Best Male Vocalist of the Year award in 2004). His low tenor range can morph from funky jazz to a breathy ballad sound from one track to the next. In addition to singing and writing most of the material on DIL, Lawrence plays nearly a dozen different instruments. His main axes are acoustic and electric guitar, but throughout the disc he plays bass, keyboards, steel drums, drumset, congas, and various other hand drums like the djembe, dumbeq, and asiko. Some fine musicians, many of them long-time associates, added to the musical depth of the project. Eric Mason (of Windjammer) deftly handled the intricate but funky drumming on three tracks (think Manu Cache). One of Jacksonville top session men, Scott Rademacher added some sizzling saxophone work on four cuts. In addition Peter Miles, Dan Walters, and Jonathan May among others contributed some fine playing. As for the nine tunes on DIL, Lawrence's songwriting and arranging provide numerous twists and unexpected turns. The album starts off with 'Like Sunshine', an uplifting, danceable tune inspired by Gilberto Gil and Papa Wemba, but is immediately followed by the haunting Keith Jarret-ish instrumental 'Lake Alice'. The third cut, 'Bassline', may be the most radio-friendly tune, reminiscent of some of Sting's or Steely Dan's work. 'Lindsey' is a beautiful acoustic ballad featuring steel drums and written for his daughter. 'Dreaming', another world/pop/jazz tune is next, followed by the almost New-Age 'Harmony Rag.' 'Long Gone' is a catchy not-pop tune in 5/4 inspired by Milton Nascimento and featuring some Santana-ish guitar work. The one cover tune is what Lawrence calls his 'Daniel Lanois' arrangement of Duke Ellington's 'Fleurette Africaine' (from Money Jungle). The final cut is a Joni Mitchell inspired ode to nocturna called 'Middle of the Night' (with apologies to John McLaughlin).