Graham Costello's Strata: Second Lives

Gareth Thompson BY

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Graham Costello's Strata: Second Lives
A top German physiologist once compared the brain's nerve fibres to a piano's keys, on which our thoughts play or strike. Scottish drummer and composer Graham Costello might relate to this, given how well he writes for the piano, as he explores themes of mental challenges on this second album with his excellent band Strata.

How we face inner hurdles to reach the other side preoccupies Costello here, though he also toys with notions of heritage and identity. He has a Burmese-Indian ancestry on his mother's side, reflected in the opening track's title; "အစ" (Burmese for 'begin') plays like a nocturnal reverie with a shimmering drone beneath its pensive chords. As an intro it very much releases the soul to begin one's internal journey. "Eudaimonia" in Aristotelian ethics means visualising inner calm, and Fergus McCreadie gingerly probes his keyboard like someone learning to relax, even as the guitars and brass invite him to flourish. Rampaging percussion helps to further break the tension, before "Legion" starts with a confident drum attack, leading to the album's most 'free' performance.

Sparse chords withdraw to silence on "Iris," as if Costello needs to commune with his private thoughts again. By contrast "The Colossus" crashes out its jagged melodies, turns inward briefly, then revives with some real throaty sax. "Circularity" opens on a noirish note, as expansive sax lines find the connection which Costello relishes between emotional values and cinematic pleasure. This link evolves further on "Impetu" where Moondog- like pulsings burst into a real creative energy.

"Snowblind" takes in the icy rawness of Nordic guitar fusion, then "Arrowhead" fairly jumps for joy under Costello's pacy direction. "Ataraxia" (a state of calmness) is ironically titled, given that its staccato edge and offbeat timings would nonplus lesser musicians. The title track finally offers repose and closure, with McCreadie alone once more, the yearning mystery of his piano seeking calm in the final embrace.

The mind's machinery grinds with great complexity, but Second Lives suggests that happiness comes from worthwhile or creative activity. Costello uses every degree of shading in his writing to realise the joy of reflection and an acceptance of sadness. On this emotive album he fully conveys his personal feelings and convictions.

Track Listing

အစ; Eudaimonia; Legion; Iris; The Colossus; Circularity; Impetu; Snowblind; Arrowhead; Ataraxia; Second Lives.


Graham Costello: drums; Harry Weir: saxophone; Liam Shortall: trombone; Fergus McCreadie: piano; Joe Williamson: guitar; Mark Hendry: bass.

Album information

Title: Second Lives | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Gearbox Records

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