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Julian Costello Quartet

And All The Birds Were Set Free

by Ian Mann

April 29, 2024


Costello has produced a set of varied and consistently melodic compositions for the quartet & their guest, vocalist Georgia Mancio, to work with. The standard of the playing is excellent throughout.

Julian Costello Quartet

“And All The Birds Were Set Free”

(33 Records 33JAZZ333)

Julian Costello – tenor & soprano saxes, John Turville – piano, Andy Hamill – double bass, harmonica, Tom Hooper – drums
with guest Georgia Mancio – vocals

London based saxophonist and composer Julian Costello has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages, the most recent review being of an excellent performance from his quartet at Kidderminster Jazz Club in July 2023. The line up featured Costello with his regular working group featuring the instrumentalists listed above. That show is reviewed here and I suspect that we may have been treated to a couple of sneak previews of new material subsequently recorded on “And All The Birds Were Set Free”, albeit presented with different (working) titles at the time.

It was a gig that I had been looking forward to for a long time having favourably reviewed Costello’s previous two quartet albums, “Transitions” (2017) and “Connections; without borders”  (2020). These recordings feature a quartet including guitarist Maciek Pysz and drummer / percussionist Adam Teixeira. Yuri Goloubev plays bass on the first release, with Jakub Cywinski taking over for the second. Both appear on 33 Jazz and both albums feature Costello’s original compositions exclusively.

Costello also leads the world jazz quartet Vertigo, alongside Stefanos Tsourelis (guitar & oud), Natalie Rozario (cello, vocals) and Sophie Alloway (drums).  The group began as a trio featuring Costello and Tsourelis and with Teixeira on tabla and percussion. The current quartet line up has since recorded an album with guest tabla player Iqbal Pathan.

Costello has also fronted an International Quartet, drawing from a pool of musicians sourced from both groups.

He has recently become involved in a more song orientated project, the Perhaps Trio featuring cellist / vocalist Rozario and guitarist Patrick Naylor.

A collaborative ensemble with which he has been associated is Fish, a quartet featuring Cywinski on bass, David Beebee on piano and Eric Ford on drums.

Costello has played in bands led by Pysz and Naylor and has also collaborated with pianists David Gordon and Terry Seabrook and drummer Sophie Alloway, among numerous others. He also plays in a  number of jazz big bands, notably the Scott Willcox Big Band.

 Costello is also a broadcaster and educator and presents “The Saxophone Show” on London Jazz Radio. As an educator he leads master-classes and workshops at Richmond and Hill Croft Adult Community College.

Costello’s latest album features his current working quartet with John Turville on piano, Andy Hamill doubling on bass and harmonica and Tom Hooper at the drums. Guest vocalist Georgia Mancio appears on two of the eleven tracks. All of the compositions are Costello originals, with the saxophonist collaborating with lyricists Anna Stearman and Rebecca Morse on the two songs. The album’s title is a reference to Costello’s remit that “the musicians should be free to express themselves and be able to fly”.

The album commences with the song “Why”, with Mancio singing words written by Costello’s wife, Anna Stearman. Mancio is one of the UK’s finest jazz singers and her wistful vocal performance is matched by the warm fluency of Costello’s tenor sax solo. Pianist John Turville is a versatile musician who has previously demonstrated a genuine affinity for working with vocalists, his collaboration with Brigitte Beraha immediately springing to mind. He establishes a similar rapport with Mancio and also provides a lyrical piano solo. Hamill and Hooper provide sensitive, unobtrusive rhythmic support. The tune has previously been recorded as an instrumental by Costello’s Vertigo group.

The title track commences with the sound of unaccompanied double bass, with Hamill briefly deploying the bow at first before changing to the pizzicato technique. Costello’s previous quartet albums have demonstrated his abilities as a writer, his compositions typically exhibiting a genuine gift for melody and a shrewd command of narrative and dynamics. These qualities are much in evidence during the course of this near eight minute composition, which unfolds slowly and unhurriedly with Costello probing gently on tenor as the music gradually gathers momentum. This is a piece that moves through a series of distinct phases and Costello hands the reins back to Hamill for the bassist to introduce the next section. This is a more upbeat passage featuring the exuberant piano soloing of Turville, propelled by the combination of Hamill’s bass and Hooper’s crisp drumming. The latter subsequently comes to the fore with a dynamic drum feature underpinned by the insistent rhythmic vamping of his colleagues. The piece then resolves itself with a brief reprise of the opening section.

Several of the track titles appear to be inspired by the natural world and “The Octopus” sees Costello switching to feathery soprano sax on a piece that presents a musical depiction of the watery beauty of its subject’s undersea domain. The liquid, often intertwining melody lines of sax and piano float on a gently rolling rhythmic backdrop as both Hamill and Hooper play with great sensitivity.

Costello returns to tenor for the more upbeat and playful “The Gecko”. A buoyant but subtle rhythmic groove supports the leader’s solo, which again retains a sense of melody no matter how deeply he probes. Once more the writing displays a clever command of dynamics. A quieter collective passage follows Costello’s solo, a timely pause for breath before a sparkling piano solo from the excellent Turville. The similarly impressive Hooper is then featured towards the close with another lively drum feature.

It’s Hooper’s drums that usher in “Winter”, a piece that sounds much warmer than its title might suggest. Costello’s playing on the opening theme statement is majestic and he’s followed by a thoughtful and expansive piano solo from Turville. Costello then stretches out further on tenor, his sound big, rich and effortlessly fluent. He later combines with Turville as the pair extemporise around a typically melodic Costello theme.

Costello’s two previous quartet albums have featured guitar rather than piano and the advent of this brand new quartet has led to the saxophonist revisiting “Sunflowers”, a tune that he also recorded on his “Connections” album. The new version introduces a further twist for it is now a song, with lyrics written by one of Costello’s students, Rebecca Morse. Georgia Mancio gives voice to Morse’s words with a suitably warm and wistful vocal performance, the warmth of her singing matched by Costello’s burnished tone on tenor. Turville’s solo is again both lyrical and expansive and his rapport with Mancio and with the leader is excellent throughout.

Costello grew up in Chelsea, so I guess that the title of “London is Blue” is a reference to his favourite football team. It’s introduced by an extended passage of solo drums from Hooper, with the leader eventually adding his robust tenor sound. I suspect that this may have been one of the then untitled items that we heard at Kidderminster. Turville then stretches out at length, probing more deeply as the music gathers a seemingly unstoppable momentum. Eventually he hands over to Turville, whose piano solo exhibits similar qualities, gradually gathering intensity and momentum. Hooper is a busy and vital presence behind the kit as he drives the soloists forward.

The ballad “Song For Anna”, Costello’s dedication to his wife, was most definitely performed at Kidderminster. It’s a beautiful tune and features Hooper’s sensitive deployment of brushes throughout. Costello’s tender, smoky tenor solo has evoked comparisons with the playing of one of his sax heroes, the great Dexter Gordon. Meanwhile Hamill introduces a whole new element with his harmonica solo. He plays the chromatic harmonica and his solo suggests the influence of such musicians as of Toots Thielemans,  Gregoire Maret and Adam Glasser. His occasional use of the instrument adds welcome variety and colour to the music of the Costello quartet. Turville is also featured with a typically lyrical and well structured piano solo, before the leader returns on tenor.

The tongue in cheek title of “There’s Always One Track You Fast Forward” might suggest a foray into the uncompromisingly experimental and it’s certainly more angular and challenging than some of the other pieces here. But with Costello on swooping soprano it also possesses a very English kind of whimsical charm. The sound of dampened piano strings and arco bass are heard in the pounding and often intense closing section. There will doubtless be some listeners for whom this track will live up to its title. As for me I rather like a bit of improvisational argy bargy every now and again and on the whole I rather enjoyed it,  it’s that element of variety and contrast again.

But titles can be misleading.  Introduced by a short passage of unaccompanied piano “No Dinosaurs Here” turns out to be an unexpectedly tender and beautiful ballad featuring the warm and fluent tenor sax soloing of the leader and the flowing piano lyricism of Turville. There’s also a delightfully melodic double bass solo from the excellent Hamill.

The dinosaur theme continues into the closing track, “Dippy The Diplodicus”, which features Hooper’s mallet rumbles alongside the leader’s tenor, the latter displaying a subtle John Coltrane influence. Costello has acknowledged Coltrane as a primary source of inspiration, so this is perhaps not too surprising. Turville eventually breaks cover to deliver a neatly constructed solo of his own.

“And All The Birds Were Set Free” represents an excellent addition to Costello’s series of quartet recordings. The introduction of a new group has clearly inspired him as a writer and he has produced a set of varied and consistently melodic compositions for the quartet and their guest to work with. The standard of the playing is excellent throughout, and although Costello and Turville catch the ear most regularly as the primary soloists the understated but consistently excellent contributions of Hamill and Hooper shouldn’t be overlooked. Hamill’s harmonica and occasional use of the bow on bass provide additional colour and Hooper delivers a number of impressive drum features as well as providing empathic rhythmic accompaniment.

The addition of classy vocalist Georgia Mancio also adds to the variety of the music and her coolly elegant vocals are well served by the poetic words of both lyricists.

Having seen the core quartet performing live I can confirm that this is an excellent band and I would urge readers to check them out if you can. A number of live dates are scheduled, including the official album launch at London’s 606 Jazz Club in Chelsea on May 23rd 2024. Please visit for the full schedule and to purchase recordings.

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