by Ian Mann
March 17, 2020
A very enjoyable and often very beautiful album, one that again demonstrates Costello’s flair for melody and his ability to build and sustain a specific mood or feeling.
Julian Costello Quartet
“Connections; without borders”
(33 Records 33JAZZ283)
Julian Costello – tenor & soprano saxophones, Maciek Pysz – electric & classical guitars
Jakub Cywinski – double bass, Adam Teixeira – drums & percussion
Julian Costello is a London based saxophonist, composer and educator. A graduate of that city’s Trinity College of Music he currently leads his own quartet and plays in a number of jazz big bands, notably the Scott Willcox Big Band. Costello is also a member of the world jazz trio Vertigo, in which he specialises on soprano sax, alongside Stefanos Tsourelis (guitar & oud) and Teixeira (tabla/percussion).
He has recently become involved in a more song orientated project, the Perhaps Trio featuring cellist / vocalist Natalie Rozario and guitarist Patrick Naylor. Another collaborative ensemble with which he is associated is Fish, a quartet featuring Cywinski on bass, David Beebee on piano and Eric Ford on drums.
Costello is also a broadcaster and presents “The Saxophone Show” on London Jazz Radio.
“Connections” represents the follow up to Costello’s well received 2017 quartet album “Transitions”, recorded by a group featuring Pysz and Teixeira plus Yuri Goloubev on double bass. With Pysz’s fellow Pole Cywinski replacing the Russian born bassist the quartet remains a truly international ensemble and the music celebrates this fact as Costello explains in his album notes;
“This music is called Connections; Without Borders. It is about the connections that we have to places through music, and how the music transcends borders. It is a collaboration between musicians and artists who move freely from place to place, less and less concerned with borders, or should we say barriers? The music was recorded in Norway and features great musicians from different parts of the world. It is inspired by how musicians and music travel like nature, open to new ideas and influences from what we like to think of as an open world.”
It’s ironic that I’m writing this review as the restrictions surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak begin to bite and the borders and barriers are going up once more. The impact on the jazz community is going to be devastating with gigs being cancelled left, right and centre. 2020 is going to be a very difficult year for musicians everywhere.
Still, at least we have recordings like this to cheer us up and maintain our faith in humanity. The programme features nine original compositions by Costello and commences with “Everyone Has A Story”. Introduced by Cywinski at the bass the piece has a haunting and atmospheric feel about it. Many listeners will be familiar with Pysz’s talents as a Ralph Towner inspired acoustic guitarist but he features on the electric version of the instrument here, producing an ethereal sound that is sometimes reminiscent of Bill Frisell. Costello himself probes gently on pure toned tenor, while Cywinski and Teixeira combine to deliver a gently undulating rhythmic pulse with Teixeira’s playing recalling that of the recently departed Jon Christensen.
“Sunflowers” continues the relaxed mood with Costello on suitably warm sounding tenor and Pysz continuing on softly focussed electric guitar. The performance is also notable for a dexterous but melodic bass solo from Cywinski as Teixeira continues to play a colourists role behind the drums.
“Connections” itself opens with Costello solo, playing piping, Garbarek like soprano, an acknowledgement perhaps that this album was being recorded in Norway – its predecessor, “Transitions”, had been documented in Italy. Teixeira’s use of tabla and other percussion emphasises the global aspect of the music, as does Pysz’s guitar which sounds quite oud like at times. Following an engaging solo from Pysz that embraces many different elements Costello himself stretches out further, and more incisively, on soprano.
Presumably inspired by the recording location “Nord Vind” begins with the lonely sound of Costello’s tenor while Teixeira’s cymbal shimmers and Pysz’s guitar atmospherics approximate the sound of rushing wind. Initially the overall effect is again rather reminiscent of Garbarek’s music, before a passage of unaccompanied guitar from Pysz sees the piece taking a detour, prior to the return of Costello’s tenor. A solo bass episode from Cywinski represents another diversion before the sound of Costello’s tenor returns us to Scandinavia once more.
The charming “Rainforest” features Costello on soprano as he duets with Pysz, the latter on acoustic guitar. There’s also a smattering of percussion, possibly from Teixeira, or perhaps from Pysz deploying the body of his guitar. Once again one is reminded of Garbarek, and of his duets with Ralph Towner, the latter an acknowledged influence on Pysz.
Costello moves to tenor for the ballad “Endless Train”, again dovetailing with Pysz’s acoustic guitar, but this time with the subtle and understated support of bass and drums. Like all the other items on this record it’s a piece that demonstrates Costello’s melodic gifts as a composer and his warmth and elegance as a saxophone soloist. There’s also an excellent solo from Pysz, one that makes brief allusions to the music of Towner.
“Splashing In Puddles” is a piece that has also been recorded by the Fish quartet. The mood of the piece is darker and more reflective than the playful title might suggest. It’s similar in feel to the atmospheric opener, and features Costello on gently brooding tenor above a backdrop of softly rippling guitar arpeggios and evocative cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles.
At a little under eleven minutes in duration “Bridges” is arguably the album’s centre piece. An engaging opening theme featuring Costello on soprano leads to a brilliantly constructed electric guitar solo from Pysz that sees him making effective use of his instrument’s range of effects during the course of a feature that constitutes a genuine tour de force. A linking bass passage from Cywinski leads to Costello’s own solo, which initially features the Garbarek like cry of his soprano in a dialogue with Teixeira’s drums, the conversation becoming more and more heated, and with the rest of the group eventually joining in. This leads us back to a reprise of the evocative opening theme and finally a closing drum feature for Teixeira, who relishes the opportunity to cut loose over an insistent sax and guitar vamp.
It’s the drummer who introduces the closing “Rivers and Rapids”, a more atmospheric and contemplative piece than its title might suggest. The ‘river’ seems to wind its way slowly through broad, big sky vistas, with Costello’s meandering tenor gliding gracefully through Pysz’s electronically enhanced and textured ambient soundscapes. Teixeira returns to his colourist’s role while Cywinski remains a stabilising presence.
“Connections” is a more obviously “atmospheric” and reflective recording than its more varied predecessor “Transitions” and places a greater emphasis on a single mood. The Jan Garbarek influence seems to be more pronounced this time round, perhaps as a result of the album being recorded in Norway.
Not that these observations should detract from what is a very enjoyable and often very beautiful album, one that again demonstrates Costello’s flair for melody and his ability to build and sustain a specific mood or feeling. His subtly folk tinged melodies are evocative and capable of summing up a real sense of place.
The playing is excellent throughout with Pysz’s soundscaping revealing a new side of his talent through his use of electronics and the Canadian born Teixeira demonstrating his skills as a highly accomplished colourist. Cywinski steps seamlessly into the great Goloubev’s shoes and acquits himself superbly throughout.
Arguably it’s all a little too Garbarek-like at times, but Jan’s legions of admirers should find much to enjoy in Costello’s music, which is generally warmer and less austere than that of their idol.
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