Album review

Graham Costello’s STRATA – ‘Second Lives’

Graham Costello’s STRATA – Second Lives

(Gearbox Records. Album review by Fiona Mactaggart)

Scotland is teeming with young jazz talent these days, and a notable example is Glasgow-based drummer and composer Graham Costello.

His STRATA features another five talented young musicians, all recognised as bandleaders in their own right: pianist Fergus McCreadie, guitarist Joe Williamson, trombonist Liam Shortall, saxophonist Harry Weir and bassist Mark Hendry.

Costello’s debut album, Obelisk, was long-listed for the 2019 Scottish Album of the Year Award. In Second Lives Costello again takes composition credits, and as ever leaves lots of space for band members to improvise. His background in underground, post-punk and minimalism continues to be evident, the tracks moving between rampant high energy gusto and Steve Reich-ian simplicity, though all suffused with polyrhythmic textures.

The eleven tracks range from the atmospheric slow-building opening piece, which sounded to this listener’s fanciful hearing like the birth of a star, to the soothing and cathartic title track at the album’s close. This is a fine post rock-informed jazz album.

With all these influences a lot can happen even within a single track. Second track Eudaimonia, meaning ‘the condition of human flourishing or living well’ starts off like an ode to Steve Reich, then at 2 minutes it becomes rambunctious, with everyone kicking off mightily.

Another intriguingly-titled track is the penultimate, particularly polyrhythmically-laden Ataraxia – it means “a state of extreme calm”. 

Despite frequent nods towards minimalism which certainly help with album pacing, Costello and his band seem most in their element and most gleeful when pouring themselves into something fast and complicated. This listener enjoyed best the tracks that were particularly heavyweight: Legion with its showers of free keyboards and wild sax; The Colossus with its gorgeous polyrhythms, broody sax and fluttering trombone; and Arrowheads with its hyperkinetic drums and muscular brass high jinks.

Costello has lots of energy and loads of ideas, so one looks forward to hearing what he and his band will do next. One is also left with the desire to seek out recordings by each of his band members whose contributions are so consummate on Second Lives.

Second Lives is released on 7th May 2021 by Gearbox Records on Digital, Vinyl LP and CD.

LINKS: Graham Costello on Bandcamp

Gearbox Records on Bandcamp

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