Posted with permission from China Daily

Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Lawrence has made China his home for over 10 years.[Photo provided to China Daily]

On Nov 4, the Red Groove Project released its second album, Proper Up!. The release was marked with two shows in Beijing and Shanghai, respectively. Chen Nan looks at the history of the band and its founder Lawrence Ku.

When Chinese-American guitarist Lawrence Ku came to Beijing in 1997, he found that the jazz scene in the capital was small but burgeoning.

Ku, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and who had a music degree from the University California, San Diego, soon made friends with local jazz musicians, such as bassist Huang Yong, pianist Xia Jia and saxophonist Liu Yuan and they jammed every weekend.

In 2002, Ku founded his own band, The Red Groove Project, in Beijing and when he moved to Shanghai in 2005, he started the Shanghai version of the band. Decades later, Ku still performs with his band, which has won a devoted following among increasingly cosmopolitan young Chinese.

On Nov 4, 2016, the Red Groove Project released its second album, Proper Up!. The release was marked with two shows in Beijing and Shanghai, respectively, in November and December.

Red Groove Project's debut album, Flow, in 2014, won three nominations at the established Golden Melody Awards in Taiwan that year: Best Instrumental Album, Best Composition and Best Producer.

Compared with its debut album, Proper Up!, which was recorded over May-June 2016, is more about showcasing the band members.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Lawrence has made China his home for over 10 years.[Photo provided to China Daily]

"I wanted to make a purely instrumental album, really show people what the band can do. The inspiration I think is really the guys in the band. I'm really so fortunate to be able to work with such amazing musicians. Each one of them is so different and so talented in his own way and their individual musical personalities really shape the band's sound," says Ku, adding that the previous bassist EJ Parker returned to the US. The new bass player Damien Banzigou also made the second album different, he says.

"Bass and drums are really the heart of a groove band like this and Damien has such a deep groove. We were also able to exploit his singing talents as well as his talents as a recording engineer. The band has really come a long way these 10 years and I have been so proud to lead it, and have learned so much by doing so," Ku adds.

Since the band has a regular schedule at the JZ Club in Shanghai, it has been playing a lot of the songs on the record for a couple of years or more.

Deciding to make an album is in part just a way to give Ku the drive to write more music.

"When I decided it was time to record our second album I got to work and wrote three new compositions: Ace In The Hole, Afros On Asians and Brahms In Leather," he says.

The Red Groove Project has always been a live band and Ku likes to keep that feel on the records.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Lawrence has made China his home for over 10 years.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Besides the Red Groove Project, Ku also travels a lot since he tours with pop stars, such as Hong Kong singer-actress Karen Mok, and Chinese-American singer-songwriter Shunza. The latter appeared as guest singer when the Red Groove Project performed at Blue Note Beijing on Dec 23, 2016.

With his early musical influences coming from legendary musicians Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ku developed an interest in the guitar, though the first instrument he played was the piano.

"I fell in love with jazz I think because it sounded like freedom to me, such intense expression, but at the same time this freedom and expression was grounded in rigor and discipline. You could only attain the greatest amount of freedom through the greatest discipline. It was such a deep concept and something I really took to," he says.

In his early years in Beijing, Ku taught at the Beijing Midi Music School and at the Beijing Contemporary Music Academy. In 2006, he founded and became the principal of the JZ School in Shanghai, dedicating into contemporary music education.

"I think Chinese musicians and the Chinese in general are starting to become more aware of jazz. I think jazz is taking off in China. I have a lot of students who want to be professional musicians, but I also have students who are amateur musicians and have got the jazz bug. The Chinese are becoming literate about jazz, both as students of music and as music lovers. It is a great thing," says Ku.

Contact the writer at chennan@chinadaily.com.cn