Julian Costello Quartet ~ ‘Transitions’ ~ CD Review by Sammy Stein

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The Julian Costello Quartet consists of composer and sax player Julian Costello (he also played drums with the likes of Derek Nash and Pete Long and now plays sax in a number of jazz big bands and in the world music trio Vertigo), Maciek Pysz, a guitar player originally from Poland living in London and the South of France who has played with Asaf Sirkis and performed at the Blue Note, Poland, Pizza Express, London and many other notable venues,   Yuri Goloudev, a bass player who has worked with Asaf Sirkis, Kenny Wheeler, John Law, Gwilym Simcock and many more and Adam Teixiera, a drummer and educator from Toronto with has a particular interest in world music. So, four musicians with diverse and interesting backgrounds and a penchant for jazz. The music for this CD arose from Julian’s sketched, then honed composition and some decent jamming sessions which developed the sounds. The result is a brilliant CD with an inclusion of many references which has a wide appeal.

Waves’ opens the CD and starts with a gentle, tender sax solo which rises and falls, travelling the registers with a resonant beauty, before being joined by an ebb and flow of percussion, emphasising the rolling effect. The guitar, when it enters, is almost tentative, adding distinctly Latino based touches under the still rolling sax, as if seeking its place in the notation. A secondary theme is introduced half way through, and this change of rhythm dominates the latter part of the number with the percussion and guitar conversing in gentle harmony before Maciek Pysz’s distinctive light touch on guitar emerges over the top for a section until the sax re-enters to close. All is calm and easy.

‘Ducks’ is short, sweet and sax led with some comic touches in the waddling, trippy essence of the riffs and little note runs and tempo changes which somehow, given the title, fit perfectly with the idea of a slightly inebriated duck exploring its surrounds. ‘Corners’ is even shorter, a little edgier and has notes from the tenor overlaid to create chords topped with a soprano solo. Lovely. ‘ A Manic Episode’ begins gently and builds as each musician adds their touches and musical ideas. The counterpointed rhythms adds just a enough of a touch of dissonance rhythm-wise to slightly wrong-foot the listener who is entertaining ideas of sitting back and letting this roll. Clever progressions and rhythm plays make for a slightly uncomfortable listen in parts but also, for anyone who likes a bit of mania in the mix, a progression towards the unhinged which will delight. The drum solo is perfectly placed to impart a slight sense of loss of control, yet the composition is structured enough that it is held together to still make musical sense. The Spanish guitar work from Maciek is fast, tenacious and yet has a delicacy which counteracts the ferocious speed. Coupled with the beautifully paced percussion this is ear fodder. Diminished and Phrygian modes (Julian told me).

‘Tongue in Cheek’ begins with a cheeky sax part, followed rapidly by guitar, bass and percussion all adding comic overtones to this quirky and deviously clever number. From uneven rhythm slices, it morphs into a lengthy swingy section which is light, complex and yet simple in arrangement if you listen. Slightly disarming, this track feels at times like a dance number and indeed the rhythm is Tango with its off-beat syncopations. The bass line is interesting and varied here with the sax soloing over the top in the last part before a rather abrupt finish. ‘Patience’ is sheer indulgence; snoozy, smooth jazz wrapped around a beautiful, bowed bass theme which the guitar responds to and develops into a gorgeous, gentle number over the caress of percussive brushes. The sax then takes over and soars away for a while until the bass of Yuri Goloubev produces its own generous, gutsy theme to close. ‘Earworm’ continues with the bass creating the theme which is quickly picked up and developed by the rest of the musicians. The simple theme ( and we are now in a major key) is repeated and worked around by everyone in turn with the drums underpinning with solid rhythmic changes and support.  And so endeth the continuum- to explain, these first 7 tracks meld into each other on the CD but can also be listened to separately ( ‘Transitions’) . Track 8 is  ‘Buraki I Ziemniaki’  and this has a solid, heavy feel to the theme and picks up tempo after the introduction , which makes way for a bass-led section, into which the sax intercedes and develops the theme line. Weighty, solid and rhythmic, without becoming treacly, the sax on this number is engaging and well supported by the others. There are some intriguing changes and key modulations which add interest and the bass and guitar-led sections are lovely, especially when the two players exchange musical ideas and interact.

‘Mirage Intro’ , which morphs into ‘Mirage’ are next. The Intro is an improvised section from Maciek Pysz on guitar and demonstrates why, for many people, Maciek is a key player of our time.  This captures both the delicate touch which Maciek has and also the emotive, crystal clear style of his playing. ‘Mirage’  itself is developed around a quirky, jumpy little theme which, like an imp, rises out of the background again and again. The sax weaves over totally gorgeous guitar,  on occasion melding to create an almost perfect singularity for the briefest of moments. The percussion has a resonant tone, provided by use of a drum with a surface of stretched goat skin. Beautiful. ‘Panettone’ begins with guitar-strummed chords and the bass notes emphasising the chord progressions before the two of them start a discussion, over which the sax weaves a contrasting theme before the guitar insistently reclaims the gentleness and the bass acquiesces in agreement. They converse for a good while, making a colourful and richly textured central portion. The sax is gentle, flowing and offers strength in contrast to the guitar which works well with the bass line here. The last part with guitar over sonorous bass is gorgeous.

‘Walking Through The Jungle’ is lilty, slightly repetitive and generous in its sound narrative with changes in tempo, plays on the theme and an overriding sense of a walking rhythm. No wild animals here, rather a meander through interesting scenes, painted in musical imagery with guitar, sax and percussion each having interesting parts, with a bass line with its own merits. The final section features wonderful staccato-fired drumming from Adam Teixera. ‘Corners Reprise’ closes the album and is an expanded ( a whole 6 seconds longer), re-arranged version for full band of the shorter earlier number.

As the title might suggest, the CD is based on the changes which we encounter amidst the complexities of life. Just like the transitions of the title some first 7 tracks which form the major part of the CD, are smooth as silk, whilst others are shorter and have a bit more of an edge, a bite and the need for work and application, whilst still others require the utmost care and careful attention to detail. There is tentative moods amidst strength, speed amidst languor. Some sections morph easily from one to the next, a couple make more of an abrupt and unexpected change while others still openly alter their stance and approach. Julian explains, ” the first 7 tracks act as a segue of unbroken music. That’s how we’ve been playing our first set at gigs. The idea was to have some fixed written sections but how we get from one to the other, is different every time and improvised.” He also gave me some intriguing anecdotes on some of the other tunes including: On ‘Ducks’ ” because my daughter finds it unbelievable that anyone could actually eat a duck.” on ‘Tongue in Cheek’ ” because music and jazz can sometimes be too serious. Would anyone seriously write such a weird last head?”  On ‘Mirage’, “meant to evoke my worrying addiction to Haloumi”  and on ‘Walking Through The Jungle’, “This is about a book I used to read to my daughter every night, again and again and if I tried to skip pages as I was so bored of the book, she would get cross.”  About the album and recording, Julian told me, ” We didn’t so much rehearse as such – rather we jammed the tunes. The end result is more organic than prescribed. I asked the musicians to play as much without the score as possible. Our rehearsals are just as likely to be a meal at Gabby’s on Charring Cross and wine at the French House. We recorded in Italy as we agreed that if we stayed in London we would have been distracted by offers of gigs, school pick up and the machinations of everyday life. Instead we were together focusing on getting the feel right and sampling Italian cuisine. “

What pervades throughout the CD is the tightness and, given that the music evolved organically from Julian’s pencilled compositions, this is an achievement which demonstrates how tuned into each other’s playing the musicians are. Julian Costello is a sax lyricist, telling his stories of life’s ups and downs with perfect alteration of tone to impart strength, humour and even frailty at times whilst the other players intuitively alter their stances, apart from their solo passages, where their inner nature springs to the fore. 

This is a great album, strong, tenacious in its quality and simply makes a great listen. 

Personnel:

Julian Costello – Tenor and Soprano Saxophones 

Maciek Pysz     – Electric and Classical Guitars 

Yuri Goloubev  – Double Bass 

Adam Teixeira  – Drums and Percussion 

Album recorded, mixed and mastered at The Artesuono Studios in Italy ECM engineer Stefano Amerio and has sleeve notes by sax player Iain Ballamy. 

All compositions by Julian Costello. 

Photo by Lisa Miniussi. Cartoon sketches by Jazz Caricaturist Alban Low and sleeve notes by Iain Ballamy ( New York Composers Orchestra, Claire Martin, Hungry Ants etc).  

A few lines from the sleeve notes by Iain Ballamy which perhaps sum up the music far better than my puny narrative attempt above. 

What do I hear?

What I hear is a set of music with a strong identity – with a thread running through it created by a group that has clearly played the music enough to be able to wield it in a playful way. 

The music is expressive……………it ebbs and flows, accelerates and slows naturally in the way only a real band can. ……………………………

The musical and cultural polarity displayed by this international group from their diverse backgrounds is proof that open music can provide the perfect meeting place to create something unique. Most of all I detect music that is un-cynical, unpretentious and un-egotistical. ” Iain Ballamy, July 2017

YT Video: Julian Costello Channel

Purchase Link: 33Jazz Records

Last modified: July 15, 2018