by Ian Mann
July 03, 2018
“K P F” may be a highly personal album but it’s one capable of appealing to a broad fan base and is a recording that Cosker can be justifiably proud of.
“K P F”
(Nyla Recordings NYLA01CD)
Alyn Cosker is the most in demand drummer on the Scottish jazz scene. He helps to provide the rhythmic drive behind the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra led by Tommy Smith and is also a prolific sideman in a plethora of small group settings. Among the leading Scottish musicians with whom Cosker has recorded are saxophonists Smith, Paul Towndrow and Konrad Wiszniewski, trumpeter Colin Steele, bassist Euan Burton and pianist Euan Stevenson. Crossing the border he has also worked with the English musicians Quentin Collins (trumpet) and Ed Jones (saxophones). Cosker has also worked with the American vibraphonist Joe Locke and away from the jazz field played in the band co-led by Mercury Music Prize nominees Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanergan.
A music graduate of the University of Strathclyde Cosker is also an aspiring composer and released his solo début, “Lyn’s Une” back in 2009. That recording is reviewed here;
“K P F” has been a long time coming but it’s certainly been worth the wait. Like it’s ambitious, if slightly sprawling, predecessor it reflects Cosker’s versatility and broad ranging musical tastes. The Scottish music scene is particularly notable for the cross pollination between jazz and folk musicians. In more populous England the two genres largely keep themselves to themselves but the comparatively smaller scene in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh, allows for a healthy element of cross fertilisation with many Scottish jazz musicians eager to explore their folk roots.
Like its predecessor “K P F” covers a broad stylistic range embracing elements of jazz, folk and rock. Cosker himself plays some piano as well as drums and percussion and the album features a core group of Steve Hamilton (piano, keyboards), Davie Dunsmuir (electric guitar) and Colin Cunningham (electric bass) with percussionist Marcio Doctor also making a substantial contribution to the music.
A wide variety of guests grace individual tracks including big jazz names such as Joe Locke, Tommy Smith and Paul Towndrow, plus folk/pop vocalist Eddi Reader of Fairground Attraction fame.
All of the material, including the lyrics, was written by Cosker and, as on “Lyn’s Une”, the sources of inspiration are often highly personal. Cosker’s liner notes provide valuable information and insight with regard to the individual tracks beginning with the opening “Serenity” which the drummer began writing just after the release of “Lyn’s Une” but only completed just prior to this current recording. Based upon the prayer of Serenity it features an extended line up including several guest musicians. Cosker himself plays some piano and the cast includes Laurence Cottle replacing Cunningham on electric bass, Towndrow on alto sax, Adam Bulley on mandolin, Fiona Hamilton on fiddle and Kirsty Johnson on accordion. The piece acts as a kind of overture, a musical depiction of a sunrise underpinned by a recurring piano motif as Dunsmuir’s guitar and Towndrow’s alto yearn and soar, reaching for the skies. There’s an air of Eastern mysticism about it that, for me, recalls 70s cult prog rockers Jade Warrior. As the music continues to develop it takes on a more obvious Celtic folk influence with Fiona Hamilton’s fiddle coming to play an increasingly significant role in the arrangement. Overall it’s a dramatic and stirring introduction.
“Yatey Ate” is dedicated to the memory of band leader Tim Barrella who was born in Sunderland but based in Glasgow. The young Cosker played regular Sunday afternoon jazz sessions with Barrella’s band and the tune title comes from the leader calling tune number eighty eight in the pad (rather improbably it was ‘MacArthur Park’) in a broad Wearside accent. The piece features the core group and dives deeply and unapologetically into fusion territory with Dunsmuir’s searing electric guitar to the fore as Cosker unleashes his inner Billy Cobham in a powerhouse drumming performance. The leader describes Dunsmuir as his “musical right hand man” and on this evidence it’s easy to see why. Steve Hamilton’s electric piano solo cools things down temporarily as he embraces the classic Fender Rhodes sound, before quickly ramping up the energy levels once more. Complex, but exciting, this is a supremely invigorating piece of music featuring some superb playing all round.
The song “Dragons” feature guest vocalist Rachel Lightbody, born in Chicago but now based in Glasgow and firmly established on the Scottish music scene. Although primarily a jazz vocalist Lightbody is as versatile as the other musicians on the Caledonian scene. “Dragons” isn’t a jazz performance as such, despite the presence of guest Cottle’s liquidly melodic bass as he shares the instrumental soloing with Tommy Smith’s emotive, eloquent tenor sax. Cosker drums with admirable restraint and also adds some piano and percussion but the main focus is on Lightbody’s yearning but flexible vocal, which variously echoes Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny in a compelling vocal performance.
The leader’s military style drumming introduces the lengthy instrumental “Purely Intertwined” which celebrates “the notion that love and friendship are purely intertwined”. Again there’s a fusion-esque feel about the piece courtesy of Dunsmuir’s electric guitar and Steve Hamilton’s electric keyboards. Dunsmuir takes the first solo, his taut, but imaginative playing again displaying a strong rock influence. A more obvious jazz presence comes in the form of the great Joe Locke who solos with his customary fluency on vibes. Tommy Smith has worked extensively with Locke and it was presumably him that introduced the American to Cosker. Also featuring as a soloist is Steve Hamilton, again on electric piano. As befits the title Cosker is a powerful but supportive presence throughout while the closing dovetailing of Dunsmuir’s guitar lines with Locke’s mercurial vibes helps to epitomise the tune title.
“K P F” is dedicated to Cosker’s fiancée, Kirsty Johnson, who played accordion on “Serenity”. The title stems from a uniquely personal inspiration, as Cosker explains;
“Her grandad played a special part in her life (along with the rest of her family). When they were kids he had a car that contained KPF in the registration plate. He would always state it stood for ‘Kirsty’s Pretty Face’. Couldn’t agree more”. Cosker may be a percussive powerhouse, but he’s a big softy at heart.
The piece itself is very brief, a minute and a half in duration, but is a charming cameo featuring a solo acoustic piano performance from Cosker that is simple but effective. In the context of the album as a whole the piece acts as an attractive and functional interlude.
“Hee Haw Twice” picks up the pace again with the core quartet plus Doctor heading into broadly fusion-esque territory once more. Cosker’s working group have opened for John McLaughlin (who was knocked out by them apparently) and as Dunsmuir’s electric guitar takes flight it’s easy to see why. Steve Hamilton sparkles on acoustic piano, thus ensuring favourable comparisons with the Impossible Gentlemen, albeit with a degree of additional percussive exotica. Cosker also allows himself the opportunity to feature his drumming in a dynamic performance behind the kit.
“When We Were Young” signals a return to song based territory with guest vocalist Eddi Reader singing Cosker’s words on “a song I wrote for things moving on in life…let’s raise a glass to it!!”
Reader gives an emotive vocal performance, imbuing Cosker’s lyrics of love and nostalgia with an appropriate gravitas. Chas McKenzie adds country tinged acoustic guitar while Cosker’s musician father, Jim, provides the elegant piano solo.
“The Adventures Of Feskelar” is dedicated to Cosker’s cocker spaniel and is a suitably playful piece introduced by the composer’s volcanic drumming and featuring a springy, propulsive electric bass line from Cunningham. Cosker even imagines his canine companion flying through the solar system in his own “little spaceship”. Dunsmuir’s guitar solo is appropriately turbo-charged as Steve Hamilton reaches for the stars on acoustic piano.
“Could Be Fate” is another tune written to reflect the nature of the human experience and to “celebrate enjoying whatever road life takes you on”. Again it features the core group and although the octane levels are lower than on the previous piece there’s still a languid, seductively funky groove about the music. Steve Hamilton delivers a wry, pleasantly rambling solo on electric piano while Cunningham adds liquid, melodic Jaco Pastorius inspired electric bass. Dunsmuir’s guitar weaves its way in and out of the piece while the leader is constant presence behind the drum kit, prompting and cajoling before featuring strongly in the tune’s closing stages.
The title of “Shoogly Paw” comes from a phrase used by Cosker’s future father in law to describe the playing of fleet fingered instrumental soloists. The energy levels are ramped up once more with another bold lunge into fusion-esque territory. Tommy Smith’s tenor features prominently – echoes here of his own ‘Karma’ group in which Cosker and Steve Hamilton both played. Smith shares the solos with Dunsmuir’s stratospheric electric guitar and the pair also exchange ideas, underscored by Cosker’s incendiary drumming.
The album ends with the song “Two Stars In The Sky” which was written “for anyone who has lost something special in their life”. Featuring Cosker on piano the piece features a wistful, throaty vocal from guest singer Fraser Anderson. It’s poignant and emotive and its simplicity represents a striking and effective contrast to the complexity of much of the instrumental music that has preceded it.
“K P F” represents an impressive artistic statement from Cosker. It’s a more focussed album than its predecessor, based as it is around the jazz-rock sound of the core group, all of whom play superbly throughout with Dunsmuir in particularly impressive form. It’s this side of the music that is most likely to be presented in subsequent live performances.
The song based items are very different, yet still sit well within the framework of the album, there’s no sense of them jarring or feeling out of place or context. The guest vocalists, Lightbody, Reader and Anderson all deliver excellent, moving performances which also serve to highlight Cosker’s abilities as a songwriter and lyricist as well as a composer of often tricky instrumental music. The juxtaposition between the simple and the complex works well throughout the album. All of Cosker’s guests make distinctive and effective contributions and add something positive to the music.
“K P F” may be a highly personal album but it’s one capable of appealing to a broad fan base and is a recording that Cosker can be justifiably proud of. It may have been a long time coming but it’s certainly been well worth the wait.
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