INTERVIEW: Julian Costello (new album Transitions launched 10 Oct at Pizza Express, and touring)

Julian Costello
Sketch by Alban Low
Saxophonist and composer JULIAN COSTELLO has a new album out, Transitions (33 Records), with Maciek Pysz on guitar, Yuri Goloubev on bass and Adam Teixeira on drums (Reviewed by Adrian Pallant for LondonJazz News). They’re touring, too. Peter Bacon asks the questions.

LondonJazz News: You’re quite partial to having a guitarist in your quartet rather than piano. Do you prefer the sound? Or is it a practical move to get around needing a venue with a piano?

Julian Costello: It’s definitely a choice on my part to use a guitar in my quartet. I like the space a guitar provides both when accompanying and when soloing. It could be seen as hard, as when soloing there is only the bass playing the chords, but that’s the point, there is freedom and space. Of course I love the piano as well, it’s different. For this project I had the sound of Maciek Pysz‘s classical guitar in my head.

LJN: Your quartet is packed with characterful players. How did you meet Maciek, Yuri and Adam? What attracts you about their playing and what do you look for them to bring to the band?

JC: I think so too. I met Maciek in 2016 and we really got on. We played some gigs together and did a small tour. I love his sound, especially on the classical guitar and we both really like to jam and experiment with tunes. I was looking for a drummer and he mentioned Adam Teixeira. I absolutely love his playing. He is a drummer/percussionist who really knows how to support the band and gives a great sense of energy. He is a real listening and musical drummer and percussionist. Yuri Goloubev plays in Maciek’s quartet and is a fantastic bass player who I think has a gorgeous sound. His improvisations are inspiring and full of musicality. We all get on very well as a group and I think the term characterful is a good one. I feel that when you ask other musicians to play your tunes you are also asking for their input. I want the musicians to bring their personality and their ideas to the compositions and interpret them in their own way.

LJN: Any specific transitions? Or transitions in general?

JC: Transitions because the first seven tracks on the album act as a segue, one long narrative of music. I tried to really think about how the tunes flow from one to another to create a contrast in moods, keys, time signatures and feels. I hope that when you listen you are embarking on a musical journey and that the album works as one whole listening experience. Also it has a personal resonance in my complicated family life. When some of my children go and stay with their mother (or return) we call the change over the transition. It’s a time when feelings run high, people are missed and dynamics change.

LJN: It feels like there is good deal of freedom in the writing. Do you have a preferred method of composing? And how does new material happen?

JC: I think the tunes are quite open and there is a lot of room for collective improvisation and jamming. I like to write the riffs, chord changes and melodic ideas, and then leave the form to take shape as we play. Probably, like a lot of people, ideas sometimes really flow and other times my head is blank. Generally I find it easier to come up with the ideas than to write them down. Even using Sibelius it seems to take so long.

LJN: Tell us about wit and humour in music… is it as difficult as writing jokes?

JC: I can’t write jokes or tell them really. Music is of course quite serious and I enjoy listening to music that has expression and is moving. But I also think it’s important not to take yourself too seriously. Music can also be funny and when the audience laughs at a few points in a set it’s good. I want to enjoy playing and not feel to precious about it. I hope people will find the tune Tongue In Cheek funny. Yuri certainly made me laugh in the studio.

LJN: You identified a favourite album in a previous LondonJazz interview: Garbarek, Gismonti and Haden playing Magico (ECM). Any funny music you’d recommend?

JC: I love You Live and Learn… Apparently by Django Bates. A brilliant and witty album that appeals to my sense of humour.

Julian Costello with Adam Teixeira.
Photo credit: Paul Ottavio

LJN: A track like Patience has an Italian feel to it… or perhaps I am imagining it because you recorded in Italy?

JC: That is a very perceptive question as I wrote that tune specifically to replace an Italian tune (Cinema Paradiso by Enrico Morricone) that we had been playing in our live set. They are in similiar keys and I began by taking the idea of the opening glissando and a play between the major and relative minor. I wanted other instruments to play some of the heads and I think it works, Yuri playing the tune arco and then pizzicato leading into an improvisation.

LJN: Iain Ballamy calls this “untypical music” – can you put your own modesty on hold for a minute and explain what you think he means by that?

JC: I have known Iain for a very long time and I love his saxophone playing a lot. He has a great sense of humour and wit. I was thrilled when he agreed to write the sleeve notes for the album.  He put a lot of effort into writing them and I really appreciate that, as he was experiencing some difficulties at the time. I think they are beautifully written. “Untypical”? I think he means it in a positive way.

LJN: You have near a dozen dates from early October to take this band on the road. Tell us about the charms of touring…

JC: Spending time with the other guys in the band, seeing the country and getting the chance to play”.

LJN: Any unrealised ambitions?

JC: Seeing New York. Playing the accordion. Driving a Routemaster bus down Shaftesbury Avenue. Taking my football mad daughter to a CFC away match in The Champion’s League. Being able to work out more than 95% of a cracking Seamus Blake sax solo. Playing with the band in Europe for some festivals. (pp)

The Julian Costello Quartet is touring Transitions from 6 October to 10 November, taking in Bradford, Newcastle, High Peak, London (Pizza Express Jazz Club for the album launch on 10 October), Bridport, Croydon, Barnes, Abergevenny, London again, Ferndown and Birmingham. 

LINK: Julian Costello’s website

Categories: miscellaneous

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