REVIEW: ‘Second Lives’ – Graham Costello’s STRATA

“SONICALLY, this is a fully analogue record – a computer hasn’t touched it. You hear full takes, and practically zero overdubs.”

Since Strata, his debut release of 2017, Glaswegian drummer/composer Graham Costello (a first-class graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) has been honing his craft; in particular, developing this intensive, progressive band with tenor saxophonist Harry Weir, trombonist Liam Shortall, pianist Fergus McCreadie, guitarist Joe Williamson and electric bassist Mark Hendry. That first, self-released step into a polyrhythmic jazz/rock/minimalist environment, followed by 2019’s Obelisk, has clearly spurred this sextet on to greater heights. The drummer’s ‘live in studio’ approach to capturing it all in full flight (quoted above and qualified by “You hear everything – squeaks, room sounds, pedal clicks”) perhaps bears the most immediate comparison with the ‘real-time process music’ of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, though with more of a funk/soul vibe.

Themes of evolution, heritage, stoicism and inner challenge (look deeper into that cover ‘icon’) permeate these eleven compositions/improvisations, with discoveries about Costello’s extended, Burmese-Indian family especially inspiring the creativity. Fronted by richly powerful tenor sax and trombone, though clearly driven by the leader’s fervent, metrical energy, STRATA as a unit are tight, uncompromising and dynamic – something initially belied by the ambient-piano awakening of အစ (translated from Burmese as ‘beginning’). Recurring motifs strongly inform their overriding energy, exemplified by Eudaimonia which thrives on a blistering wall of approaching/receding horns and pyrotechnic percussion, and continued in torrid, sax-squealing Legion (Costello’s flamboyance at the kit, here, is on another level).

Certainly there are oases of calm, as in Satie-suggested Iris led by McCreadie’s restrained, echoic piano; or Williamson’s notable pitch-bent guitar that paints an unsettling, industrial landscape in Snowbird; and Circularity’s repose summons the slowly-shifting figures of John Ellis and The Cinematic Orchestra. But STRATA’s trademark thunder is unquestionably ‘main feature’, the rasping horns and full-band saturation of The Colossus crescendoing and thrashing to fever pitch, while the brisk momentum of bass-babbling Impetu is carried by relentless piano figures, its boldness momentarily side-stepping into calypso. The pulsating, upward trajectory of Arrowhead creates an exciting, almost menacing three minutes (a double or triple extension to its development can be imagined), closely followed by the John Adams-reminiscent propulsion of Ataraxia – crashing, riffing… and anything but tranquil! To close, the band’s ruminative title track seemingly connects with the earlier-mentioned themes, its cyclical piano and meditational effects perhaps impressing continuity of ‘family’.

Graham Costello’s STRATA have, so far, furrowed their particular groove with panache, character and honesty; and that foundational principle of artistic realism delivers a ‘wow factor’ in this album which will undoubtedly translate explosively into eventual live performance. Advancing the band’s compositional style and sound may be their next challenge – but they’ll be up for it!

Co-produced and engineered by the legendary Hugh Padgham, Second Lives is released on 7 May 2021 and available as CD, vinyl and digital download at Bandcamp.

 

Graham Costello drums, composition
Harry Weir tenor saxophone
Liam Shortall trombone
Fergus McCreadie piano
Joe Williamson guitar
Mark Hendry electric bass

Cover image by Bernadette Kellermann and Graham Costello

Videos: Eudaimonia, Legion, Circularity, Impetu, Live in concert (2018)

grahamcostello.com
gcstrata.net

Gearbox Records – GB1566CD (2021)

REVIEW: ‘A New Dawn’ – Marius Neset

SAFE TO SAY, in these uncertain times, we’re all looking for that silver lining; or, in the case of acclaimed Norwegian tenor saxophonist Marius Neset, the gilt-edged promise of A New Dawn.

Over the last decade or so, Neset has produced an extraordinary catalogue of original work – a distinctive melange of contemporary jazz and Scandinavian folk – often overloading the senses with complex, dizzying arrangements for small and large forces (the latter, in 2020 big band creation, Tributes). But as we know, the pandemic’s restrictions have dramatically shifted the current artistic landscape, with numerous ‘lockdown’ recordings appearing as musicians have sought alternative ways to express their artistry and keep their craft, technique and livelihoods on track. For the saxophonist, this global situation provided the opportunity to fulfil a long-held ambition – to record an album of solo tenor explorations (some of which he had originally written for band or symphony orchestra) without overdubs or effects. He describes it as “an amazing challenge – and also a bit scary: I cannot lean back on a rhythm section or another player, I am completely responsible for every little detail in the music myself”.

The proposition of a single horn player presenting an entire recording of solo material may not, initially, seem entirely tantalising. But those who can cast their mind back to 2011 debut Golden Xplosion – and his astounding live sets – will know that ‘unaccompanied’ in Neset’s world is anything but. Captured earlier this year, A New Dawn celebrates those extraordinary (dare it be said, unique) capabilities which naturally, over time, have been developed and honed into the bewildering wonder heard across these nine self-composed tracks. It’s an engaging display of melodic, rhythmic and chordal prowess – ‘chordal’, because Neset’s signature wizardry in stating or implying key signatures and progressions, through agile employment of ‘arpeggioed’ phrases and harmonics, is pivotal to this album’s success.

Those attributes can clearly be heard in the opening title track, where melodic phrases (in thirds, including bass line!) push it towards pop ballad territory, though also including Neset’s seemingly effortless improvisations. Theme from Manmade crackles like popcorn, its complex, bopping structure unfathomable in terms of such deft execution, and with the snatched breathing and rapidity of key clicks clearly audible. Taste of Spring unfurls, fern-like, in the lower registers before gradually climbing towards the sun with preening optimism and astonishing fluidity. In that vein, folk dance Brighter Times creates wondrous, gruff chordal sequences from harmonics, even hinting at a bluesy, Caribbean vibe; and with such richness, it’s easy to envisage one of Neset’s sumptuous big band arrangements piling in, midway.

Two numbers from that decade-old golden debut (with Django Bates, Jasper Høiby and Anton Eger) are reinterpreted. Old Poison (XL) rises from its impudent, slow beginnings (including a sneaky “look at me” at 0:38) into an audicious, mesmeric climax whose transcription would no doubt be mindblowing to view. Equally impertinent, groove-chasing The Real Ysj squeaks and rollercoasters at a hair-raising tempo. Back nearer terra firma, chirpy folksong A Day in the Sparrow’s Life is another ‘self-accompanied’ delight, its suggested verse-and-chorus structure pausing for contemplation before one of Neset’s most scintillating full-band impressions. Morning Mist’s murky trudge is shot through with shrill tenor wails and screams, but amidst it all is also the most beautifully wistful descending figure; and alpenhorn-hued multiphonics herald Theme from Every Little Step, a near-seven-minute paean reminiscent of Neset’s sublime work with tubist Daniel Herskedal, his mind wandering free.

Describing the “beautiful, sunny and very cold winter day” on which this recording was created, in a studio close to his Oslo home – while also contemplating the good and simple things in life: walking, running, skiing and being with family – Marius Neset’s solitary performances look ahead to brighter days. The spirit and grace of A New Dawn can point us in that direction, too.

Released on 30 April 2021 and available from ACT Music.

 

Marius Neset tenor saxophone, compositions

mariusneset.info

ACT Music – 9930-2 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Turn Out The Stars – The Music of Bill Evans’ – Pinheiro – Ineke – Cavalli

BILL EVANS (1929 – 1980) and the piano. Inextricably connected, or so it would seem. But this new recording from Portuguese guitarist Ricardo Pinheiro, Dutch drummer Eric Ineke and Italian double bassist Massimo Cavalli takes us along different avenues to explore a number of the revered pianist’s creations, alongside works by Michel Legrand and Leonard Bernstein.

Individually, the members of ‘Pinheiro – Ineke – Cavalli’ have built long-ranging careers and discographies – see links below. Together, they share a number of recordings, including 2018’s Triplicity and ensemble releases such as Is Seeing Believing? (a quintet with saxophonist David Liebman and pianist Mário Laginh) and Lisbon Sunset (a collection of jazz, poetry and improvisation with poet Barry Wallenstein, pianist Luís Barrigas and drummer Jorge Moniz).

In truth, guitar encounters with Bill Evans’ catalogue have happened before, including John McLaughlin’s ambient-styled acoustic album of 1993; and Evans recorded with both Kenny Burrell and Jim Hall, the latter in duo albums Undercurrent and Intermodulation. Through the timbres and dynamics available to this particular trio, six of the pianist’s compositions are texturally and rhythmically refashioned in a collaboration that might cursorily be catalogued ‘easy-listening jazz guitar trio’. But, speaking from experience, these are precise interactions which benefit from a greater focus to appreciate their inner workings.

Peri’s Scope launches the main programme of Evans interpretations, the original‘s piano-trio jauntiness translating into a fleet, foursquare expedition that ripples with crisp percussion, fast-walking bass and the lissome extemporisations of guitarist Pinheiro. There’s a similar twist of momentum for Very Early (from Evans’ ‘Moon Beams’ album with Chuck Israels and Paul Motian) where its lazy, hazy demeanour is alternatively painted in lighter, gossamer shades – the sense of ‘conversation’ even more palpable as the trio members share ideas and encourage snippets of arco bass, percussive sparkle and melodic freedom. Perhaps even more interesting is how they convey Interplay (fronted by Freddie Hubbard and Jim Hall in Evans’ bustling early-Sixties recording) as a blithe amble, nevertheless kept on its toes by the crackle of Ineke’s teasing snare offbeats.

It’s difficult to imagine that most enduring of Bill Evans ballads, Waltz for Debby, away from the master’s sublime, mellow pianism – but the trio treat it with reverence, Pinheiro’s elegant chordal shapes carrying it through into a newfound, joyful and almost pirouetting waltz brimming with sprightly extemporisation. Turn Out the Stars (later Evans) and Time Remembered are merged into a ten-minute-plus reading that, depending on your view, either becomes an immersive discovery or can dissolve into the background; either way, its eventual development into freer territory is attractive as Pinheiro’s use of overlaid, sustained effects is matched by bass and drum turbulence.

Bookending the Evans revisitations are two evergreens of stage and screen, once recorded by the pianist – Michel Legrand’s You Must Believe in Spring (from 1967 French movie ‘The Young Girls of Rochefort’) and Leonard Bernstein’s Some Other Time (from the 1944 musical ‘On the Town’). Divorced from its romantic piano (and orchestral) origins, the Legrand enjoys its unexpected excursion into a Sixties-pop-riff kinda groove; and Bernstein’s sentimental classic – recorded by Tony Bennett and Evansis ‘vocalised’ here by subtly pedalled guitar.

Though completely accessible, it may take a while to get deeper under the skin of Turn Out the Stars – but ‘Pinheiro – Ineke – Cavalli’ have both the integrity and the charm to enable us to catch these classics in refreshing, new light.

Released on 30 April 20211 and available from Challenge Records and Proper Music.

 

Ricardo Pinheiro guitar
Eric Ineke drums
Massimo Cavalli double bass

ricardopinheiro.com
ericineke.com
massimocavalli.com

Challenge Records – CR73523 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Torus’ – James Lindsay

THE WEAVE of warm, incisive melody and textural detail heard in bassist/composer James Lindsay’s Strand (his 2017 debut as leader) takes flight in this new album – a vibrant blend of folk-rock that radiates positivity, freedom and adventure.

Torus, in geometrical, natural and cosmological terms, is explained as ‘a spiralling flow of energy, constantly refreshing and influencing itself’ and informs this recorded “exploration of the flows which connect us to our world, and a reminder that change is our only constant”. Communicating those themes, Lindsay integrates himself within the body of an eight-piece instrumental line-up that drives his latest compositions with renewed vigour, certainly ramped-up from the relative homeyness of his original release. That said, amongst its high-energy rock riffs – from a core of electric guitar, keyboards, sax, bass, drums and percussion – the beguiling timbres and inflections of accordion and fiddle firmly root these nine numbers in the evolving folk-music heritage of the bassist’s native Scotland.

Also a member of renowned folk band Breabeach, and with various awards accolades to his name, Glasgow-based Lindsay’s approach to composition and arrangement feels both meticulous and open. There’s a clear sense of journeying threaded through his work that creates a fulgent or sometimes smirr-streaked soundtrack quality. Indeed, though the titles’ sources are varied, the strongest impressions are of Scottish coastal or heather-rich landscapes, with the ever-changing visual and meteorological contrasts they present (aligned to the album’s aspects of regeneration and renewal).

Optimistically-emerging Lateral Roots establishes Lindsay’s intent in an ebullient, contemporary folk-rock reel warmed by the particularly effective textural mesh of unison accordion and sax; and Ben MacDonald’s skittering, hammer-style improvisations can be fleetingly reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth or John Clark. Observatory’s sky-wide ambience brings forth the delightful, rapidly-articulated dance of fiddle and accordion, backed by a crashing, 1980s-hued pop groove; and in Electroreceptor (a system of tissues in a living organism that enables electrical power), suitably syncopated rhythms spark a buzz of overlapping soul-funk conversations throughout its instrumentation. The bass-rasping, synth-laden vigour of Lewisian Complex (referencing north-west Scotland’s ancient, craggy outcrops) has tremors of Depeche Mode or The Human League; but again, it’s fuelled by jazz-rock guitar and vibrant Scots colour, pausing only for the misty Gaelic vocal of Deirdre Graham.

Kalimba droplets and crunchy Rhodes chords prepare the ground for Cycles’ theme-tune riffs and solid beats, while ritualistically-dancing Skekler (a guiser involved in an ancient Shetland custom of banishing winter that includes the beating of wooden staves) culminates in the vehement pound of percussion, urgent fiddle and power chords. Taking Lindsay back to an old haunt, The Smiddy’s chirpy folk melodies become lusciously underpinned at one point by Moog bass, and Jinibara (the indigenous people of Queensland, Australia – an area once visited by the bassist) is similarly uplifting. To close, the first-light clarity of Holon’s accordion and bass seemingly rises to greet the sun, coruscating with a tapestry of guitar, fiddle and sax.

At times, the narrative of this music might benefit from greater fluctuations of light and shade, occasionally reducing the density to create space (as heard in that pool of atmospheric, vocal serenity) or even a near-silence that might portray dark sky zones, north of the border. But, imagined as the basis – or forerunner – of a mixed-media concept or screenplay score, James Lindsay’s evocations characteristically brim with vitality.

Produced by respected jazz and folk musician/engineer Euan Burton, Torus is released on 23 April 2021 and available as a limited-edition CD, or digital download, at Bandcamp.

 

Angus Lyon accordion
Ben MacDonald electric guitars
Deirdre Graham vocals (on Lewisian Complex)
Jack Smedley fiddle
John Lowrie keyboard
James Lindsay bass guitar, electric guitar, Moog
Norman Wilmore alto saxophone
Scott Mackay drums
Signy Jakobsdottir percussion

Illustration: ‘Observatory’ by Alice Strange

jameslindsaymusic.com

OIR Recordings – OIRCD002 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Dance Little Lady, Dance Little Man’ – Sam Braysher Trio

THE BOLD, SOLID COLOURS of renowned Argentinian artist (and musician) Mariano Gil introduce Dance Little Lady, Dance Little Man – a new recording from London-based alto saxophonist Sam Braysher in an essentially chordless trio with double bassist Tom Farmer and drummer/percussionist Jorge Rossy.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 22 April 2021, Dance Little Lady, Dance Little Man is available from Sam Braysher’s online shop.

 

Sam Braysher alto saxophone
Tom Farmer double bass
Jorge Rossy drums, vibraphone, marimba

sambraysher.com

Unit Records – UTR 4951 (2021)

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‘Conversation #1: Condensed’ – Arbenz X Mehari/Veras
Hermon Mehari, Nelson Veras, Florian Arbenz
Release date: 23 April 2021
florianarbenz.bandcamp.com

‘Reflector’ – Twospeak
Ronan Perrett, Mike De Souza, Ben Lee, Joseph Costi, Ben Brown, Adam Teixeira, Ben Rodney
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‘Shores’ – Fergus Hall
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‘XXXX’ – Michael Wollny
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‘Tvuru’ – Tvuru
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‘Moon On The Lake’ – Satoko Fujii
Satoko Fujii, Takashi Sugawa, Ittetsu Takemura
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