The biography of Scottish musician Graham Costello tells of a natural-born talent of the drums who was conquered by two distinct passions: Jazz music and the independent European rock scene. Having experienced both the two, he eventually formed his own band, called STRATA, in which he tried to merge together the two worlds. The ambitious goal perhaps isn’t fully achieved to date, but he’s definitely on the right track.
Obelisk, which is the second album recorded by STRATA, leaves very little space to the listener’s imagination for how intense and rich is the music. There are really really few moments of calm: all the spaces are filled with powerful sincopated rhythms punctuated by Costello’s drums, Mark Hendry’s electric bass and Fergus McCreadie’s piano, on top of which Harry Weir’s saxophone, Liam Shortall’s trombone and Joe Williamson’s guitar follow each other in a trhilling race full of improvisations and distortions.
The music in Obelisk is aggressive, strong and hard as a rock. There is no poetry in Costello’s style of Jazz, but rather energy and passion. As it usually happens when the band’s leader (and the sole composer) is a drummer, much of the emphasis is centered around the rhythm. Every song of the album presents, elaborates and amplifies a basic rhythmic element, which is repeated throughout the song until it becomes obsessive and mesmerizing. Even in the rare moments when the level of intensity is a little attenuated, there is always this continuous pulsation that never stops, with the atmosphere which remains thrilling and charged with electric tension, in preparation for the new explosion of sounds.
It’s clear that the kind of Jazz played by Costello and his bandmates is very particular, and this somehow reflects the self-confidence that has been achieved by the leader. As I mentioned at the beginning, however, this fusion between Jazz and underground rock has yet to be refined, since at this moment the “energetic” component prevails over everything else. The mechanims by which the songs of the LP are developed is practically the same from the beginning to the end of the record, and the effect is that we finish the listening a little exhausted.
My overall judgment is an encouraging 6.5/10. I appreciated the courage and the capacity of Graham Costello to impose such a particular style of Jazz. Now it’s time to refine it and complete the mission. The first couple of tracks are those which really impressed me as soon as I started listening to the album, even because the rest of the LP tends to be a sort of reworking and expansion of what we heard in the first songs.
Obelisk is now featured in THE JAZZ MUSIC RADAR, the playlist on Spotify which collects all the best and newest tracks in Jazz. Listen to it and follow it!