corto.alto – Bad With Names
(New Soil x Bridge The Gap – album review by Mark McKergow)
This debut album from corto.alto builds on previous award-winning EPs. It displays a fine palette of live sounds and electronic music, building a superb sound world of next-generation jazz with rich harmonies and exciting improvisation.
corto.alto is the moniker of Glasgow-based multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Liam Shortall, who has risen through the ranks of the Tommy Smith Jazz Orchestra and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra as a trombonist alongside making beats in his bedroom. Proud of both his Glasgow upbringing and Irish-Spanish heritage (corto.alto translates from Spanish as short.tall – a touch of the Fatboy Slim perhaps?), Shortall produced a series of five EPs entitled Live At 435 named in honour of his address on the city’s Sauchiehall Street. He won the Innovation In Jazz award from New Music Scotland in 2021 (*).
Shortall is part of a golden generation of Scottish jazz talent who dropped in to appear on Live At 435 and are now to be found laying down solos and lines on Bad With Names. We have to wait to hear them though – the album starts with a string quartet (led by Seonaid Aitkin) performing Intro For Strings, a lush piece with shifting harmonies, dropping into Hello, the strings giving way to piano chords, basslines and cymbals before landing on a skittering beat anda trombone solo (which turns out to be from Liam Shortall himself. It would be nice to be told – but perhaps that’s the point of the album title.) A complex treated brass line appears, the strings return to glide out – and we’re still only four minutes in to the album. It’s concentrated stuff, a long way from the ‘stick a loop on and blow’ style which used to pass as nu-jazz.
The album continues with xoxoxo, award-winning pianist Fergus McCreadie coming forward with a rippling solo. There’s some neat drumming at the end which may well be Graham Costello rather than a computer – Shortall combines his resources so well that the joins are not at all clear. Slope leads off with some insistent tenor sax over a tuba-sounding bassline before a break section with cascading harmonies and extended jazz chords. Latency is over a slower and (slightly) broken beat and allows James Copus’ trumpet to let fly with agile extended lines over another great chord sequence which is worthy of Gil Evans.
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“Would you guys mind if I sample this for the album?” asks Shortall as a prelude to Would You Mind?,and this seems to be the modus operandi for the two year production process. We get a filtered squonky beat with a brass harmony line and an impassioned tenor solo, with another well-constructed musical evolution across the number. Mechanisms is another highlight, huge ‘tutti’ passages dropping into quietly subtle rhythm elements. The album closes with Bye, the current single, with a typically titanic Harry Weir tenor solo. That the opener is Hello and the closer Bye seems to me that we are invited to play the whole album in sequence, just like the old days of vinyl and turning it over halfway through.
This album is a heady mixture of jazz harmony, subtle production and full-out blowing. As such it’s well worth a top billing in the ‘future of jazz’ stakes.
(*) Mark McKergow sponsored this award but had no role in the judging