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: ‘Phylum’ – Nazareno Caputo

DISCOVERY in music can take many forms for creator, performer or audience; and the concept takes on a more specific definition in ‘research’ recording Phylum from Italian vibraphonist, percussionist and composer Nazareno Caputo.

Caputo, who studied classical percussion at the conservatories of Gesualdo da Venosa, Potenza, and Luigi Cherubini, Florence, contributed much to double bassist Ferdinando Romano’s outstanding 2020 debut release Totem (a lush, contemporary jazz sextet/septet album featuring trumpeter Ralph Alessi). But this more challenging trio recording arguably stems from deeper, more studious origins. Combining indubitable skill as a musician with his architecture-graduate passion for structure and non-structure – viewed through evolution, elaboration and dissolution – the project documents the vibraphonist’s close dialogue of exploration with Romano and drummer Mattia Galeotti.

“The word ‘Phylum’”, he explains, ”is used in zoology and botany to indicate a precise taxonomic group. Organisms belonging to a certain phylum share the same structural plan but not necessarily [does] their morphological development [lead] them in the same direction. The music of the trio starts from similar concepts. In architecture … structure is an element that is often hidden and only there to support. Sometimes, however, [it] is also exposed and therefore becomes part of the external morphology and acquires an aesthetic value”.

So this album is conceived as an imaginary path through the concept of structure in which the ‘journeys’ are presented in shapeless, chaotic form but may then evolve into, or retreat from, more cohesive rhythms and phrases. This can perhaps be more directly assimilated as a blend of free jazz and composed forms. Recorded by renowned engineer Stefano Amerio in the crystal-clear surroundings of the Artesuono studio, Udine, these 70 minutes are indeed an organic experience, requiring full attention.

Nazareno Caputo’s sleeve notes comprehensively describe the nine tracks from his own perspective, though each is very much open to individual interpretation. Preludio’s disparate voicings succinctly demonstrate ‘order out chaos’ as they stumble upon a single note and rhythm, whereas the tentative vibraphone elegance of 13-minute Adi possesses a melodic, recognisably jazz-inflected beauty that suggests a five-note bass figure to Romano; and that becomes the basis of a crescendoing adventure which erupts to Galeotti’s frothy display at the kit. This is the first of four expansive numbers, followed by the lively vibraphone-led delirium of Dulce where Caputo’s tireless improvisations lead to solid rhythms and eventual arco-bass placidity.

Like a number of composers, including Liszt, Caputo’s basis for Abside (a polygonal, vaulted recess) is the four-note motif B-A-C-H, which persistently encourages the trio towards accelerating, percussive frenzy; and episodic Adam R. (referencing Adam Rainer – historically, the only man whose life was affected by both dwarfism and gigantism) fizzes with myriad, unpredictable expressions of animation and repose. Searching solo vibraphone introduces three-part suite Phylum, whose dreamlike central waltz suggests a more classical inspiration. Its concluding movement is the album’s closest reflection of contemporary jazz and rock, sparking a thrashing fervency from Galeotti, while the album’s brief Postludio pares down all that has gone before into the shady abstractionism of sustained chimes, knocks, cymbals and restless bowing – does this even possess a structure … or must everything?

The album trailer (linked below) presents the trio in the sympathetic environment of Giovanni Michelucci’s Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, Florence – a fine example of the artistic bond between music and architecture which Nazareno Caputo values so highly. For the listener, late-night calm or the ‘cathedral’ of pastoral spaciousness, too, can amplify the trio’s offbeat creativity – the rest is down to our imagination.

Released on 22 February 2021, Phylum is available as CD or digital album at Bandcamp.

 

Nazareno Caputo vibraphone, percussion, composition
Ferdinando Romano double bass
Mattia Galeotti drums

Trailer (1:27), Movie (9:30)

nazarenocaputo.com

Aut Records (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Rickety Racket’ – Martin Pyne Quartet

ANOTHER RECORDING which ‘winks’ at me to be heard over and over (‘more than happy to oblige) is Rickety Racket from the Martin Pyne Quartet (MPQ) – and it’s certainly proved to be neither rickety, nor a racket!

Prominent as a vibraphonist in performance and recordings, as well as to be found behind various percussion set-ups, Pyne frequently leans more towards free improvisation projects such as MPH; and as a songwriter, he is also pivotal to vocalist Laura Zakian’s EP, Minor Moments. But in the combined role of composer, bandleader and drummer, this new album of original material is his most straight-ahead instrumental jazz release to date.

It could partly be due to the pianoless nature of MPQ’s line-up – with saxophonist Philippe Guyard, electric guitarist Russell Jarrett and double bassist Marianne Windham – that there’s a distinct sense of light and space in these seven well-crafted numbers. In fact, it’s a glorious synergy of wafting, melodic tunes (with the blithe immediacy of 1960s recordings) and impish free-spiritedness that, especially in more animated episodes, even sans keyboard instrument, can summon the sound world of Thelonious Monk. The impudent title track does just that – a snappy, angular fairground ride of discordant guitar-and-sax riffs to reverberant bass and precise drumming. Percussive detailing is also a feature of delightfully buoyant Pony Express, Jarrett’s lithe guitar improv pushing the momentum forward – and that considered balance of rhythm and freeness is further demonstrated as Guyard’s soprano teasingly gyrates across its midway oasis.

Martin Pyne’s more contemplative or romantic pieces are sublime. The affectionate longing in Miss You Already (song for Cheryl), dedicated to a sadly departed musical colleague, is beautifully portrayed through the most elegant tenor melody. Here, Guyard’s mellow tone, with a slight edge, is so attractive, as is the all-round integration of MPQ’s instrumentation and arrangement. Wistful descending-bass bossa nova Desert Rose feels ready-made for TV, and again, the individual sparkle and dynamic of each musician elevates it. Pyne’s music can be inspired by literature, with A Stillness of Appomattox referencing historian Bruce Catton’s account of the final year of the American Civil War; and it’s Jarrett‘s lucid, countrified guitar strains that pave the way for the tranquil, almost weary footfall of this gorgeously homey tune.

Sixes and Sevens, originally conceived with vocals for Laura Zakian, swings irresistibly to ticking, crackling snare and throbbing bass, Jarrett’s melodic runs reminiscent of Jim Hall. And closing Beneath the Smile may yet become another song for Zakian, Guyard’s tenor pointing the lyrical way before the quartet promenades into the warm afterglow – a charming conclusion.

When music beckons us back, it’s a sure sign we’re onto something good. There’s much in jazz and classical repertoire which has that enduring effect – and the feel-good, mischief and effortless musicianship of Rickety Racket is, quite simply, blissful.

Released digitally on 3 April 2020 and available from Bandcamp.

 

Philippe Guyard tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Russell Jarrett guitar
Marianne Windham bass
Martin Pyne drums, composition

Tall Guy Records / Martin Pyne at Bandcamp

Tall Guy Records (2020) 

 

REVIEW: ‘Paradox’ – Andrés Thor

A SUBTLE ‘white album’ cover reflects one of the key attributes of this latest release from Icelandic guitarist/composer Andrés Thor and his quartet with pianist Agnar Már Magnússon, double bassist Orlando Le Fleming and drummer Ari Hoenig.

Though a cursory listen might indicate familiar, four-piece jazz territory, the nine original tracks of Paradox (the follow-up to 2016’s Ypsilon) offer levels of light and clarity not always so prominent in a guitar-led quartet. The coupling of Már Magnússon’s picturesque piano and Thor’s chordal/melodic sensitivity (with warm tremulant) easily visualises open, breathing landscapes; and together, Le Fleming and Hoenig work to provide a crisp, refractional foundation to this cognitively-themed album’s whole.

Eden ripples with sunlight as Thor’s agile-yet-unhurried improvisations meander up and down, through imagined woodland glades, attuned to the quartet’s shared, gentle finesse; and although pacier, Quantum still allows bright diffractions to filter through onto its purposeful path. The guitarist’s eloquence is emphasised in his precise, self-accompanied prelude to Tvísaga, while coolly-swinging 8.J.L. feels especially balanced across the ensemble; and sidewalk-strutting Schrödinger’s Cat certainly teems with snare-accentuated life. Both Dal and the bluesy shuffle of Avi are exquisitely measured, offering room for pondering solos, and there’s beautiful, positive luminosity in bass-riffed Under Stars and the 55-minute set’s concluding title track.

Paradox has been out there for a few months, but the freshness and detail in this studio recording from Brooklyn, New York, is a treat.

Released on 5 April 2019 and available as CD or download at Bandcamp.

 

Andrés Thor guitar, composition
Agnar Már Magnússon piano
Orlando Le Fleming double bass
Ari Hoenig drums

Dimma – DIM 82 (2019)

REVIEW: ‘Minor Moments’ (EP) – Laura Zakian

LONDON-BASED JAZZ VOCALIST and educator Laura Zakian has released four solo albums to date, the most recent – 2014’s Songs for Modern Lovers – including in its line-up pianist Steve Lodder, double bassist Simon Thorpe, drummer Nic France and baritone saxophonist Paul Bartholomew. For new project and EP release Minor Moments she returns with that same quartet – but, notably, it marks her creative collaboration with vibraphonist, percussionist and composer Martin Pyne.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 13 May 2019, the EP is available at Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes, etc.

 

Laura Zakian voice, lyrics
Steve Lodder piano
Simon Thorpe bass
Nic France drums
Paul Bartholomew baritone saxophone
Martin Pyne percussion, composition

laurazakian.com
tallguyrecords.com

Tall Guy Records (2019)

‘The Port of Life’ – Jean John

SLOVENIA to NEW YORK… a personal narrative of immigration and acculturation. Drummer, composer and bandleader Jean John’s ambitious work The Port of Life – dedicated to all the immigrants of this world – fulfils his belief that music should always tell a story and create an experience.

Born Žan Tetičkovič, in Ptuj in Slovenia, Jean John relocated to the United States in 2010 to further his artistic ambitions, and desired to communicate the “whirl of emotions in trying to find and establish the existence in a new culture”.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Jean John (Žan Tetičkovič) drums and cymbals, composition
Alba Nacinovich vocals
Lenart Krečič tenor saxophone
Tomaž Gajšt trumpet and flugelhorn
Jani Moder guitar
Marko Črnčec (Churnchetz) piano
Myles Sloniker upright bass

Janus Atelier String Quartet:
Matija Krečič 1st violin
Nejc Avbelj 2nd violin
Barbara Grahor viola
Zoran Bičanin violoncello

Andrej Lamut photography
Marko Damiš design
Sergej Harlamov poetry

Žiga Murko electronics

jean-john.com

ZKP RTV Ljubljana – RTVS 114441 (2016)