The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s resident drummer, Alyn Cosker brings his own group to London for two gigs this month. As well as much experience at home with SNJO, with whom he has also recorded in New York and gigged in the US, Scandinavia and France, Cosker has worked with a vast array of talents in styles including pop, folk and rock. His group plays all original material and includes two current members of drumming legend Billy Cobham’s touring band, keyboardist Steve Hamilton and guitarist Davie Dunsmuir. Interview by Rob Adams:
LJN: Your group comes enthusiastically recommended by John McLaughlin; how did that happen and what did he say to you?
AC: We were really fortunate to be asked to support John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension at Edinburgh Jazz Festival in 2016. I’m a big fan of John and his keyboard player, Gary Husband, is also one of my favourite drummers/musicians. Myself and Gary have corresponded over the years and I could see him along with John, Ranjit Barot and Étienne Mbappé watching from the side of the stage. When we finished our set Gary came over to say hi and was very complimentary. He then introduced me to John, who said: “I never listen to support bands but I watched your entire set. Your music sounds new and fresh.” I was pretty bowled over, to say the least.
LJN: How did you go about choosing the musicians in the group and what were you looking for?
AC: I’m really lucky to get to work with a lot of world-class bass players, guitarists and piano players. For me the line-up of the band needed to be a balance of virtuosity, soul and ability to play a song. I feel very fortunate that the guys have all these facets instinctively. They’re such great people to hang out with, too, which makes for a fun dynamic that feeds into the music. I’ve known Davie [Dunsmuir, guitar] since I was 14 years old and I was always inspired by his incredible talent back then. It really pushed me to get better as a drummer. Steve [Hamilton, keys] has been a great musical figure in my life and a lot of great opportunities have happened for me thanks to him. Colin [Cunningham, bass] and I have spent many months on the road with various people. He’s such a solid bass player. He can really stretch out technically but really holds us all together when it’s all going crazy rhythmically.
LJN: You’ve written all the tracks on your latest album, KPF, lyrics included; how do you compose and is songwriting something we can expect to hear more of in the future?
AC: For KPF I mainly wrote at the piano and a little on guitar. The process for writing was never the same way twice. For example, the bulk of the opening track, Serenity, was written in 2010 and I finally got round to finishing it at the end of the album recording. The music from Two Stars In The Sky was an improvisation that I happened to record on my phone. It took a while to write the lyrics to that. For the song We Were Young I wrote the lyrics on an SNJO lunch break. Overall, I’d say some of the tunes or lyrics just fell out of the air for me. Others took quite a bit of crafting. I’ve always loved to write songs for my own enjoyment and actually write the majority of my instrumental tunes with lyrics, as songs. It’s my hope that it gives the melody greater depth. I’ve been writing quite a lot lately and a lot of these tunes definitely include lyrics so we’ll see how it goes.
LJN: In your career and especially as the drummer with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra you’ve worked with an impressive array of top players; are there any experiences that particularly stand out?
AC: I’m really fortunate to have had some amazing opportunities working with some of my musical heroes. Playing Steely Dan’s Josie with Larry Carlton was really up there. Also working with John Scofield with the SNJO was incredible as I’ve been a huge fan since I started playing. Recording in New York at Avatar Studios for the SNJO’s American Adventure album was a highlight. (REVIEWED) It was surreal watching a who’s who of jazz stars walking in one after the other; for instance, Mike Stern, Joe Locke, Dave Liebman and Randy Brecker. Also working in Japan with Eddi Reader’s band was a lovely experience.
LJN: Was there any particular musician who made you think, as a youngster, that’s what I want to do, be a musician?
AC: There have been loads of moments and people that have really inspired me to pursue music whether it be my dad or older drummers at school. When I started playing I was obsessed with the Jimi Hendrix Trio. Mitch Mitchell was a huge inspiration, which was a great starting point for me discovering different players and different genres.
LJN: What feelings would you like the audience to take away from your group’s concerts?
AC: I really hope audiences leave our concerts feeling uplifted. Whether you know very little or a lot about music, it’s our hope that you feel a connection to what we’re doing and just have a whole load of fun.
The Alyn Cosker Group opens for Nic Bartsch’s Ronin at Ronnie Scott’s on Monday 19 November and plays a lunchtime gig at Pizza Express on Tuesday 20 November.