The music of Graham Costello’s STRATA is a bold, innovative and multi-layered thing of wonder, combining the polyrhythms, collective groove and improvisation of jazz, the raw energy and grit of post-rock and the ethereal and hypnotic qualities of minimalism. The band is drawn from the cream of Glasgow’s positively thriving jazz scene and comprises drummer, composer and bandleader Graham Costello, Fergus McCreadie on piano, trombonist Liam Shortall, Harry Weir on tenor sax, guitarist Joe Williamson and Mark Hendry on bass.
The band plays with a tightness and freedom developed over a couple of years of monthly residency gigs in their home city of Glasgow and they are poised to take the UK jazz scene by storm with the recent release of their stunning debut album, OBELISK, which was launched in considerable style at a sold-out gig in the Glasgow CCA on 10th February.
In opening tune, STOIC, a low drone rumble built to a crescendo, ushering in resonant piano, skittering percussion, reverb bass runs and an elegant horn-led melody, followed by a quickening of the tempo as a rippling piano motif provided the cue for Harry Weir’s deliciously moody sax solo which built steadily in intensity to the finish. SAPPHIRE kicked off with cool horns over tumbling piano and shimmering guitar, before a tight drums and bass groove underpinned Fergus McCreadie’s breath-taking piano solo, which began in typically lyrical fashion before branching out into freeform runs, pounding chords and plucked strings inside the piano to exchange rhythms with Graham Costello’s drums. The first set concluded with the album’s thrilling and majestic title tune, OBELISK, which encapsulated all the signature elements of STRATA’s sound…a stirring main theme, powerhouse polyrhythmic drumming, cascading piano, relentless and shifting horn riffs and runs, tight guitar and bass grooves and exhilarating solo trades between piano and guitar and then sax and trombone.
The transitions linking the tunes were fascinating too, providing opportunities for some of the musicians to take well-deserved breathers, while the others contributed, for example, gentle piano dinks and runs, feathery percussion, wispy horns or echoey guitar.
The second set’s opener, _96, showcased Fergus McCreadie’s piano skills to the full, as he delivered some mesmerising minimalism before taking flight with a lengthy solo excursion of dazzling invention and dexterity. _96 also incorporated a crackling guitar solo from Joe Williamson, set against Mark Hendry’s rumbling bass. Following a soothing piano interlude, JADE kicked in with bebop piano runs, smoky sax and punchy horn riffs, setting the scene for Liam Shortall’s glorious trombone solo, which was constructed beautifully over spiky guitar, pulsing bass, mighty drums and rolling piano. OCELOT, the album’s centrepiece, was a tour de force, building from minimalist bass and piano notes and gentle washes of sax into a hypnotic ensemble groove with prodigious drums and searing bursts of trombone and guitar. For FLY, the last tune of the night, absorbing, minimal piano increased steadily in urgency before Graham Costello unleashed a final torrent of drum-kit mastery and blistering horns brought the piece to an abrupt and epic conclusion. This drew a lengthy and thoroughly well-deserved standing ovation.
With OBELISK, Graham Costello’s STRATA have issued an uncompromising statement of intent and Graham Costello seems set to take his place among the leading jazz composers in the UK. STRATA’s music is complex, dynamic and utterly absorbing. There is a new golden generation in Scottish jazz and this band are at its cutting edge.
OBELISK was released on 1st February via bpqd Records.