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Julian Costello Quartet

Julian Costello Quartet, Kidderminster Jazz Club, 45 Live Venue, Kidderminster, 06/07/2023.

by Ian Mann

July 09, 2023


Costello and his colleagues really were a class act, with the leader impressing both as an instrumentalist and a composer, his writing simultaneously sophisticated and accessible.

Julian Costello Quartet, Kidderminster Jazz Club, 45 Live Venue, Kidderminster, 06/07/2023.

Julian Costello – tenor & soprano saxophones, John Turville – piano, Andy Hamill – double bass, harmonica, Tom Hooper – drums

Kidderminster Jazz Club’s final gig of the 2022 / 2023 season was this superb performance from saxophonist and composer Julian Costello and his new quartet, featuring pianist John Turville, bassist Andy Hamill and drummer Tom Hooper.

The gig also represented KJC’s last at the 45 Live Venue, which has been the Club’s home since February 2023, after having previously been domiciled at the Corn Exchange Room in the Town Hall just across the road. Most of the KJC regulars had grown accustomed to 45 Live, which normally functions as a rock club, and in many ways I shall be sad to leave. The 2023 / 24 season will commence in September at another new location, the St. Ambrose Parish Centre in Leswell Street, elsewhere in the town.

It would have been nice to have seen a few more people for this last show at the 45, particularly as Costello and his colleagues delivered such an excellent performance. This was a gig that I had been looking forward to for a long time having favourably reviewed Costello’s last 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 has also led the world jazz trio Vertigo, in which he specialises on soprano sax, alongside Stefanos Tsourelis (guitar & oud) and Teixeira (tabla/percussion). Meanwhile his International Quartet draws 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 Natalie 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.

Based in London  Costello is a graduate of that city’s Trinity College of Music and plays  number of jazz big bands, notably the Scott Willcox Big Band. He 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.

As we arrived in Kidderminster I espied Costello, Turville and Hooper sitting eating their sandwiches on a bench in the town square. Hooper was already in the venue setting up his drums. After the gig came the drive back to London.  Ah, the glamour of the jazz life!

Tonight’s performance was tailored towards a provincial jazz club audience and included arrangements of tunes by John Coltrane, Paul McCartney and Duke Ellington, alongside Costello’s original compositions. A number of the latter remained untitled and had been written specifically for the current quartet line up.

The evening began with the trio of Turville, Hamill and Hooper ushering the John Coltrane composition Lonnie’s Lament. This gave Costello the opportunity to demonstrate his big, Coltrane-esque tone on tenor, his solo followed by an expansive piano solo from Turville. The pianist was playing a Nord Stage keyboard on an acoustic piano setting, so for the purpose of this review we’ll call it a ‘piano’. And it has to be said that his soloing was brilliant all night, fluent, imaginative and restlessly inventive, with Costello and the rhythm team responding in kind. It was a shame that Turville didn’t have access to the magnificent grand piano at the Town Hall, but he still sounded great on the Nord.

The leader continued on tenor for “Sunflowers”, a tune from the “Connections” album. The composition was inspired by a field of sunflowers near Costello’s father’s house in France. Meanwhile the album itself was recoded in Norway and was intended as a celebration of music’s ability to traverse geographical and cultural barriers. As Costello ruefully observed it was cruelly ironic that the first Covid lockdowns should have kicked in so soon after the album’s release.
Musically the piece was gentler and more lyrical, an example of Costello’s melodic gift as a composer. The performance was notable for Hamill’s melodic bass solo and for further fluent musical excursions from Turville on piano and the composer on tenor.

The title track of “Connections” saw Costello moving to soprano sax for an original composition based on a North Indian classical scale. The piece was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied soprano sax, later joined by the patter of Hooper’s drums, approximating the sounds of tabla rhythms. There was also an unaccompanied passage from Hooper at the piano, followed by a sinuous, subtly probing solo from the impressive Costello on soprano.

The leader remained on soprano for his own arrangement of the Paul McCartney composition “Blackbird”, ushered in by Hooper at the drums with subsequent solos from Costello and Turville. Hooper was then featured again towards the close, his circumnavigation of the kit underpinned by Costello’s cyclical soprano sax motif.

Costello returned to the tenor for a new composition specifically written for the new quartet. “Tonight it’s called ‘Pourquoi’”. This featured a typically strong melodic theme that provided the platform for expansive and inventive solos from both Costello and Turville.

The second set commenced with another new Costello composition, this one defiantly untitled. It was introduced by an opening drum salvo from Hooper, joined by the buzzy sound of the composer’s tenor in a lively sax / drums debate. Following the addition of piano and bass more conventional jazz solos came from both Costello and Turville.

Next up was a Latin tinged arrangement of the song “La Rosita”, a tune variously recorded by Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. Hooper’s exotic, colourful drum work provided the springboard for solos from Turville on piano and Costello on tenor.

Another new Costello original, tonight titled “JT’s Remorse” was the second piece to feature Hamill’s melodic bass soloing as he featured alongside the composer’s gently probing soprano and Turville’s piano, all sympathetically supported by Hooper’s delicately nuanced drumming.

Costello decided to round off the performance with a standard, the evergreen Duke Ellington / Juan Tizol composition “Caravan”. This supremely adaptable composition was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied tenor sax from Costello and also incorporated more conventional jazz solos from Turville and Costello, the latter exploring the tenor’s upper registers. Finally we enjoyed a dynamic drum solo from the excellent Tom Hooper.

The small but appreciative audience gave the quartet an excellent reception and Costello chose to encore with a beautiful ballad that he had composed for his wife. “For Anna” saw Hopper deploying brushes throughout and was also notable for a delightful harmonica solo from Hamill that drew on the influence of Toots Thielemans and Gregoire Maret. Hamill then returned to the bass to support the lyrical soloing of Turville on piano and Costello on tenor.

Tonight’s performance represented a brilliant way to bring down the curtain on KJC’s tenure at 45 Live. Musically this was one of the most satisfying performances in the history of the Club, Costello and his colleagues really were a class act, with the leader impressing both as an instrumentalist and a composer. He was equally adept on both tenor and soprano and in the ever responsive and inventive Turville he had the perfect musical foil. Hamill and Hooper formed a flexible and intelligent rhythm pairing, while Hamill’s harmonica cameo represented a very welcome bonus, I’d forgotten that he sometimes doubled up on that instrument. Costello intends to record with this quartet and any subsequent album will be very keenly anticipated.

A word too for Costello’s presenting style, his succinct,  good humoured anecdotes giving just enough information about the music, but not too much.  His verbal eloquence was a match for his fluency on the saxophone. Local jazz broadcaster John Hellings was certainly impressed by Costello’s urbane approach.

My thanks to all four band members for speaking with me and to Julian for the gift of one of his earlier albums, 2004’s “Cake and Consequences”, by a quartet featuring Patrick Naylor on electric and acoustic guitars, the versatile David Beebee on electric bass and cello and Sean Randle, currently playing with folk-rockers Oysterband, on drums and darbuka.

The “Cakes and Consequences” album is a loosely conceptual affair that draws parallels between music making and baking, but in a very English, self deprecating kind of way that is reflected in Costello’s whimsical tune titles. The obsession with cake reminds me of the ‘Canterbury Scene’ prog bands and their predilection for a nice cup of tea.

Even then Costello was a composer whose writing was simultaneously sophisticated and accessible, qualities that still inform his work to this day. Largely written by Costello, who plays both tenor and soprano saxes, the programme also includes one joint composition with Beebee and an arrangement of an old English folk tune, with the music also drawing on other musical traditions from around the world. Nearly twenty years after its release it’s still available via various platforms and is still well worth hearing.

Kidderminster Jazz Club will recommence operations in September, with Friday the new regular Club night. Dates already confirmed are;

01/09/2023 – Club organiser and vocalist Annette Gregory and her band

06/10/2023 – Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra

03/11/2023 – Jim Mullen Trio

Please visit for more details.

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