When the members of jazz trio Twin Talk began making music together in 2012, they found, as saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi put it, “We were all kind of coming at the music from a similar place.”
The unified sense of direction continues, his comments suggested in a recent phone interview, but in a sense the Chicago group is exploring a different destination.
Laurenzi, bassist-singer Katie Ernst and drummer Andrew Green will perform Friday in The Lakely. The show will include music from their recently released “Weaver,” an album recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios outside of Eau Claire.
At the outset of the group’s formation, Laurenzi said, a mutual interest in a melodic approach interested them.
“(I)n some circles of the jazz world it ... might be more about really sophisticated harmony or really complex rhythms and intensity and that kind of thing,” he said. “And I think initially we were all drawn more to the melodic side of things and how we can be expressive in music and really try to communicate with each other … not feeling like we have to be really intense or overtly intense in the way we play.”
But as the sound of Twin Talk has evolved, a bolder approach has brought more risk taking to Laurenzi’s saxophone runs, Ernst’s warm bass playing and often wordless vocals, and Green’s pulsating drums.
“(A)t some point ... we felt like things were getting a little stagnant,” Laurenzi said, “and so we started to do what we could to our music to open it up so that we could take more risks and really kind of play with the different elements of the composition so not everything is fixed anymore; so we can play different parts of the song at different times and really rearrange things depending on how things are going in the moment.”
When Laurenzi is told even the ballads on “Weaver” possess a noticeable level of energy, he suggested how that might strike a listener.
“So I think maybe that kind of energy and that feeling of kind of on the edge of your seat, not really knowing what’s happening next … that might be some of the energy you’re feeling,” he said. “I think that’s what we feel when we’re playing ... there’s a sense of unknown, but there’s a trust between us that whatever happens is going to be OK. So even on the more sensitive, quiet songs, there’s still a sense of not totally sure what’s going to happen, but we know we’re going to get there together.”
That sounds appropriate for a group whose name was inspired by the “high-level, nonverbal communication twins might share,” Ernst told Down Beat Magazine in an article earlier this year.
Their sense of exploration extends to the making of “Weaver,” recorded via 37d03d, the artist collective and digital platform led by Vernon, the National’s Aaron Dessner and others.
In the making of their previous two albums, he said, they stressed capturing their live-in-the-studio performance. That was only the starting point this time around, Laurenzi said, a luxury afforded by the five days Vernon gave them to record at April Base.
For the second half of the studio session, they experimented with overdubs — more saxophone and other woodwind instruments, extra layers of Ernst’s voice and more percussion by Green, “as a way of elaborating on what we had recorded live,” Laurenzi said.
The more sophisticated production techniques are used more frequently in rock and other styles of music, Laurenzi said. “But it’s not as common I think in the jazz and improvised music world to use the studio as an instrument rather than just getting a live take, which is historically what most jazz records are.”
This wasn’t the first time Laurenzi had worked at April Base. He was among the backing musicians on “22, A Million,” the 2016 album by Vernon’s Bon Iver. The story of how that came about illustrates how a talented musician makes the most of seemingly random opportunities.
A friend he hadn’t really kept in touch with of late, saxophonist Nelson Devereaux of Minneapolis, called out of the blue and asked if he wanted to play for what would become “22, A Million.” Devereaux had been asked by Bon Iver member Michael Lewis, a multi-instrumentalist whose expertise includes saxophone and bass, to recruit other saxophonists.
Laurenzi did a weeklong recording session, and he came away from it grateful for the opportunity, thinking that was the end of the story. Not so fast.
He then got a call to perform with Bon Iver at the 2016 edition of Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, where Bon Iver played the album in its entirety before it was released to the public.
“It was incredible, and I think really it was just like another one of those things that ... could only happen at that festival,” Laurenzi said.
After the festival Bon Iver’s management called and asked Laurenzi to play on several tour dates in 2016 and 2017.
“It was a really great experience, and I learned a lot and played a lot of really great shows,” he said.
When it comes to live performances, Twin Talk have developed a reputation for doing things out of the ordinary, sometimes ditching setlists altogether. In that spirit, Laurenzi said the audience at The Lakely can expect an aural adventure.
“We’ve been kind of starting most of our sets just improvising together, and then eventually we’ll probably get into some of our songs that you might recognize from the record,” he said. “Or we’ve got some new music too that we haven’t recorded yet. So we’ll probably be playing a mix of those things. But even if you recognize it from the record, I think the way we’ll end up playing it will be very different in some ways, just in trying to keep things in the moment and trying to keep things fresh.”