CD REVIEW: Graham Costello’s Strata – Strata

Graham Costello’s Strata – Strata
(Self-released. Review by Adrian Pallant)

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.

The band’s eponymous debut release combines minimalist classical and jazz motifs with the hard-blowing, upfront horns of tenorist Scott Murphy and trombonist Liam Shortall; and with Costello at the drum kit, the line-up is completed by other emerging names from the Scottish scene – pianist Fergus McCreadie, guitarist Joe Williamson and electric bassist Euan Taylor. The drummer’s five, often polyrhythmic soundscapes might suggest the repetitive process influences of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin (their mostly numeric titles perhaps a clue), the mesmeric atmospheres of The Cinematic Orchestra or the wildness of The Thing; but there are also discernible aspects of the post-bop jazz tradition which permeate this original music to contribute to its own, vigorous identity.

Strata’s synergy and precision is evident from the initial, cyclic pulse of _’28, where deep, rasping horns augment and ascend a persistent undercurrent – but then, all at once, breathing space is offered through nimble, solo piano improv and mobile electric bass. Constantly-evolving dynamic and rhythmic layers are key to holding these concepts together; often vibrant and rock-influenced, the hypnotic, metrical shifts throughout are absorbing. For example, _’59‘s rhythmic tension, set up by a complex, ticking pulse, suggests a spaced-out otherworldliness redolent of the ’70s (think Soft Machine or Isotope), yet also possesses the ability to frenetically erupt into sax- and guitar-led mayhem.

Costello demonstrates percussive leadership from the kit, as in _’60‘s Doppler-like progression shaped by three-dimensional, elongated trombone-and-sax lines and urgent pulsations from guitar and piano, before Liam Shortall’s expressive trombone feature opposes this alarm with balm-like lyricism. Reminiscent of the calmative output of John Ellis, The Burma Walk‘s simple three-note piano figure begins to spark intelligent, individual extemporisations through the pervading darkness, climaxing in a tumultuous, explosive barrage of sound (tantalising to imagine the fervour in a live context). Expansive and metrically tricky, guitar-rocking _’88 has ‘widescreen opening titles’ written all over it, Costello sensitively pacing its twelve minutes by interspersing the thunderous, improvised clamour with eloquent guitar and trombone spotlights.

Behind this album’s young energy is great attention to nuance and clear evidence of educated musicianship; and the fact that this is the project’s debut seems remarkable. Surely it must only be the first step for a band whose distinctive sound might even be experimented with in the future, perhaps inviting guest instrumentalists to take it in new directions. But for now, with this strong release, Graham Costello’s Strata should quite deservedly be on the radar.

Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, musician and jazz writer who also reviews at his own site ap-reviews.com

Strata will be released digitally on 15 June – LINK

Categories: miscellaneous

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