Metal-head jazz! It could only have been made by a Glasgow band. Without wishing to perpetuate stereotypes, the vibe suggests musicians who have spent more time in whisky bars than Tom Waits, Rabbie Burns, Ava Gardner, Mark Twain and Raymond Chandler put together. The focus and precision of their playing, however, suggests sobriety was maintained in the studio.
After an almost tentative start, "Cygnus" moves it on up, high energy, impassioned and in your face. Some will deny that the 10-minute single is jazz. But Strata is indisputably a jazz band, or a jazz-rock one anyway. It was formed by drummer Graham Costello with the intention of fusing cerebralism and passion, minimalism and noise, spontaneity and composition. Since 2016 a sextet with the same instrumentation as that on "Cygnus," the band went through bassist and saxophonist changes before settling down to the lineup heard here, which debuted on the self-released Obelisk in 2019. There are fierce soloists in the front line and the rhythm section is killer.
Although a different beast, "Cygnus" shares an attitude with trumpeter Colin Steele's berserk Stramash (Gadgemo, 2009). Conceived by Steele with the help of an inordinate quantity of single malts while on holiday alone on one of the Western Isles, the album is still one of the brightest jewels in new(ish) Scottish jazz. Strata shows signs of reaching similarly lofty heights.
Cygnus; Cygnus (Radio Mix).
Graham Costello: drums;
Harry Weir: tenor saxophone;
Liam Shortall: trombone;
Fergus McCreadie: piano;
Joe Williamson: guitar;
Mark Hendry: electric bass.
In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.