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)

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
twospeak.bandcamp.com

‘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
actmusic.com

‘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

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