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)

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RECENT LISTENING: April 2021

‘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
Release date: 7 May 2021
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‘Shores’ – Fergus Hall
Fergus Hall, Cameron Nixon, Matt Carmichael, Fergus McCreadie, Mark Hendry, Dominykas Snarskis, Fay Guiffo, Sarah Wagner, Helena Rose, Aimée Laws, Rufus Isabel Elliot, Zakia Fawcett, Keena Wildman, Sarah McWhinney, Mathew McAteer
Release date: 16 April 2021
linktr.ee/Fergushall

‘XXXX’ – Michael Wollny
Michael Wollny, Emile Parisien, Tim Lefebvre, Christian Lillinger
Release date: 30 April 2021
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‘Tvuru’ – Tvuru
Andreas Andersen, Henrik Sandstad Dalen, Ola Øverby
Release date: 23 April 2021
ingroov.es/tvuru

‘Moon On The Lake’ – Satoko Fujii
Satoko Fujii, Takashi Sugawa, Ittetsu Takemura
Release date: 8 May 2021
librarecords.com

REVIEW: ‘Where Will The River Flow’ – Matt Carmichael

THE OPENNESS and beauty of the west Central Lowlands of Scotland (Yon wandering rill that marks the hill, And glances o’er the brae*) evoked in the cover art to tenor saxophonist Matt Carmichael’s Where Will The River Flow hints at the contemporary expressions of jazz and Scots folk heritage found in this vitalising debut album.

From Dunbartonshire, and soon to graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, 21-year-old Carmichael began playing at around the age of 11. A Peter Whittingham Development Award in 2019 recognised the potential that had earlier been seen by saxophonist Tommy Smith (“better than I was at that age”) who invited him to join his youth jazz orchestra. More recently, he also impressed as a finalist in 2020’s BBC Young Jazz Musician awards, playing his own compositions which included numbers from this album.

Like so many Scottish composers and players before him, the beauty of Carmichael’s homeland strongly informs these nine tracks which are melodically fresh, yet can also erupt with vivacity and technical flair. Their folksy footing means that, while these originals don’t head into the rugged terrain of more exploratory, avant garde jazz, they can most certainly jig with an infectious joie de vivre – and that’s due in equal part to the ebullience of his quartet colleagues, pianist Fergus McCreadie, double bassist Ali Watson and drummer Tom Potter.

The Spey is perhaps the most boisterous example of that – a breathlessly rapid reel reflecting ‘the fastest river in Scotland’, which nevertheless provides space for McCreadie’s improvisatory vigour (becoming his signature, as heard in recent release Cairn). It also demonstrates Carmichael’s confidence in writing a ruthlessly difficult main figure to share with the pianist (eventually) on the bandstand! Another river depiction, Firth – specifically, the Moray Firth – teems and tumbles over itself to Tom Potter’s thrashing percussion as it heads over to the North Sea. The title track, too, is an eleven-minute hike that climaxes in gushing, torrential grandeur – an indicator of the saxophonist’s unbounded optimism, amidst current artistic ‘turbulence’, in the early stages of what promises to be a fulfilling career.

Just as warming are Carmichael’s more mellow excursions into the great outdoors of his childhood. Cononbridge (near Inverness) ambles to the homey, rhythmic tread of piano, bass and drums; and its softly whirling tenor melody possesses ‘sig tune’ appeal, while also joyfully scaling improvisational heights. Looking north-east from the summit, Carmichael recalls his time studying in Oslo, and his watery inspiration taken from there – Sognnsvann – is a beautifully lilting lakeside theme imaginable as a Trio Mediaeval interpretation. Contrasting pibroch-styled Interlude, under greying skies, swoons to plaintive tenor over double bass drone, its icy grip relinquished to Hopeful Morning which skips with memorable, almost Spyro Gyra-like radio appeal.

Dedication Dear Grandma seems to draw from its composer a sense of gratitude and ‘place’ in a tranquil, meandering ballad; and the aurora of closing improvisation Valley signals the sun to gradually arc into full brilliance as the quartet thunders in rock-solid celebration.

Matt Carmichael’s musicality already displays striking maturity and awareness, with a compositional vocabulary that suggests much for future projects. Right now, Where Will The River Flow is likely to put a spring in your step!

Released on 12 March 2021 and available in CD, vinyl and digital formats at Bandcamp.

 

Matt Carmichael tenor saxophone
Fergus McCreadie piano
Ali Watson double bass
Tom Potter drums

Album art by Joanne Carmichael

*quoted from An Ode to Spring – Robert (Rabbie) Burns

mattcarmichaelmusic.com

Porthole Music – PM01 (2021)

REVIEW: ‘Cairn’ – Fergus McCreadie

THE SIGHT of a neatly constructed mound or pillar of stones on a barren, hilltop landscape immediately changes our response to that environment – the sense of others treading the path ahead of us and leaving a landmark for all who continue to pass along. Anologously, that may apply to any musician influenced by what has gone before, including pianist Fergus McCreadie.

His original compositions certainly reverberate with the passion and vigour of Phronesis, e.s.t and others. But new album Cairn, with double bassist David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson, signals why, unquestionably, this trio possesses a distinctive character of its own. The root of that lies in both the artistic heritage and the landscape of McCreadie’s Scottish homeland; so this hour of nine contemporary jazz numbers feels steeped in an authenticity that intrinsically connects to traditional folk music. Already with a string of accolades to his name, including ‘Album of the Year’ in Parliamentary and Scottish jazz awards (for self-released 2018 debut, Turas) and finalist in BBC Jazz Musician of the Year, the pianist has also appeared on recordings which include those of the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra and Graham Costello’s Strata.

The mists of history and folklore spread their fingers across opening North, where inflected piano melodies ride deep-bass fifths as it gains stature; then, breaking through at the summit, sunlit title track Cairn especially reveals McCreadie’s deft ornamentation around the soft, shuffling groove provided by bassist and drummer. Piano explorations ripple and dart with strong improvisational conviction – a theme reinforced throughout the more rhythmic episodes of the album, including the countrified, Bruce Hornsby-like momentum of Across Flatlands which is purposeful though undeniably and melodically attractive. Over eight minutes, the whirling, breathless rock drive and jazz interest of Jig is a stand-out, featuring intensely fervid rhythms from Bowden and Henderson while McCreadie’s white-hot keyboard figures dazzle.

An impressive prehistoric henge in Orkney provides the inspiration for mystically waltzing The Stones of Brodgar, and the intensifying lap of Tide paints wide-sky imagery. But it’s An Old Friend’s slow-release folk atmospheres, across nine minutes, which are the most affecting. The augmented-chord conclusion of its plaintive Scots theme is so bewitching, before pianist and bassist each offer out their homespun improvisations through an endless valley-floor vista. Tree Climbing somehow suggests a transatlantic country/folk connection, proudly bustling and reeling to rapid riffs, chords and bass lines; and to close, Cliffside has the cyclical animation favoured by bands such as Mammal Hands, but always coruscating with McCreadie’s silver-stream thread of extemporisation.

Vibrant, progressive, energetic, wistful – McCreadie, Bowden and Henderson together have the power to transport mind and heart back to the visual beauty of Scotland’s wild places. Such are the reasons why, in every generation, we’ll never cease to be sustained and buoyed by the spell of creative music.

Released on 29 January 2021 in CD, vinyl, mp3 and WAV formats, Cairn is available from Edition Records.

 

Fergus McCreadie piano
David Bowden double bass
Stephen Henderson drums

fergusmccreadie.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1165 (2021)

RECENT LISTENING: January 2019

Reflections & Odysseys – Rymden
Bugge Wesseltoft, Dan Berglund, Magnus Öström
Releasing 8 February on Jazzland Records
rymden3.bandcamp.com

Circuits – Chris Potter
Chris Potter, James Francies, Eric Harland, Linley Marthe
Releasing 22 February at Edition Records
chrispotterjazz.bandcamp.com

Obelisk – Graham Costello’s Strata
Harry Weir, Liam Shortall, Fergus McCreadie, Joe Williamson, Mark Hendry, Graham Costello
Releasing 1 February at bpqd Records
grahamcostello.bandcamp.com

Peter and the Wolf – The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra
Prokofiev – arranged and orchestrated by Tommy Smith,
featuring Makoto Ozone and narrated by Tam Dean Burn
Releasing 25 January at Spartacus Records
snjo.co.uk

REVIEW: ‘Strata’ – Graham Costello’s Strata

GrahamCostello

SCOTLAND is currently producing some vital, fresh expressions in jazz. Standing solidly amongst them is Glasgow-based drummer/composer Graham Costello – a first-class graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – and his sextet, Strata.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 15 June 2017 and available digitally from Bandcamp.

Videos: _’88, _’60.

 

Scott Murphy tenor sax
Liam Shortall trombone
Fergus McCreadie piano
Joe Williamson guitar
Euan Taylor electric bass
Graham Costello drums, compositions

grahamcostello.com

Self-released (2017)