Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

September 14, 2017


This is highly melodic music that is readily accessible, but consistently intriguing, and full of rhythmic sophistication. It all makes for a very distinctive album and one that deserves to do well.

Julian Costello Quartet


(33 Records 33JAZZ268)

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 Adam Teixeira (tabla/percussion).

Apparently he is also an accomplished drummer who has performed in this capacity in bands led by saxophonists Derek Nash and Pete Long.

I first became aware of Costello’s sax playing in February 2017 when he appeared as part of a quartet led by the Polish born, London based, guitarist and composer Maciek Pysz at a concert promoted by the Shrewsbury Jazz Network. In a line up that also included bassist Yuri Goloubev and drummer Eric Ford the saxophonist impressed with his contributions on both tenor and soprano. My review of that performance can be read here;

This new album brings various elements of Costello’s musical life together on a set of thirteen original compositions in the company of Pysz, Goloubev and Teixeira with Costello himself playing both tenor and soprano saxophones.

The album was recorded at Artesuono Studios in Italy by engineer Stefano Amerio, a location also favoured by the ECM label, and the sound quality is excellent throughout, something that we have also become accustomed to expect from 33 Records. Fellow saxophonist Iain Ballamy provides the liner notes, which shine an illuminating, if occasionally oblique, light on the music. The artwork includes drawings by the artist Alban Lowe, a figure closely associated with the London jazz scene who has provided the artwork for many UK jazz releases, most notably for the trio Partikel.

The album commences with the ambitious and atmospheric “Waves” which begins with the sound of Costello’s unaccompanied tenor sax, not a million miles away from Jan Garbarek, but warmer and less austere in tone. Pysz’s guitar atmospherics and Texeira’s mallet rumbles add to the ambience before the music takes a more melodic turn, sometimes evoking the Middle Eastern sounds loved by of the Vertigo trio. Pysz solos with an easy elegance and fluency before Costello returns to restate the theme.

The music segues into the following “Duck” which combines folkish melody with gently exotic rhythms. There’s a very English quirkiness about the piece that reminded me of Ballamy, Django Bates, Mark Lockheart, Julian Arguelles and other members of the Loose Tubes school.

Costello multi-tacks himself on the brief, but evocative,”Corners” playing the main melody on soprano saxophone.

Costello begins “A Manic Episode” on tenor before quickly switching to soprano to dance lightly above the subtle grooves generated by Pysz’s recurring guitar motifs and the patter of Teixeira’s percussion. The music gathers momentum as Costello probes more deeply and Teixeira’s playing becomes increasingly propulsive, culminating in something of a drum feature mid tune. Pysz then takes over on classical guitar, but there are strong hints of flamenco in his solo, and the more Arabic sounds of the oud, too.

Again there’s a segue as the piece morphs into “Tongue In Cheek” with its freely structured intro punctuated by fleeting bursts of melody. The leader remains on clarinet like soprano to state the quirky theme, the sound of the Middle East still never far away, but with more than a hint of tango too, particularly in the playful exchanges between Costello and Pysz. 

Again the music flows into the next piece, “Patience”, which features the delightfully rich bowing of the Russian born Goloubev followed by the coolly elegant guitar of Pysz. Costello then takes over on lilting, feathery soprano before Goloubev asserts himself again, this time playing pizzicato.

His extended passage of unaccompanied bass leads into the next piece, “Earworm”, Ballamy’s personal favourite. With Costello stating the memorable melody on airy soprano sax the piece is well named. Pysz solos on warm toned electric guitar, sounding vaguely Metheny like, before Costello takes flight again on soprano, floating breezily above the nuances of Teixeira’s neatly detailed drums and percussion.

“Buraki I Ziemniaki” finds Costello moving back to tenor on a piece that features some delightful interplay between the leader’s sax and Pysz’s guitar. Goloubev adds passages of melodic pizzicato bass and also combines well with Pysz. Costello’s solo is one of his most robust and contrasts well with Pysz’s more measured guitar explorations. The Canadian born drummer Teixeira responds to everything going on around him with his customary assurance and lightness of touch behind the kit.

The two part “Mirage” begins with a passage of solo acoustic guitar (with occasional atmospheric electric guitar overdubs)  from Pysz that incorporate the kind of Middle Eastern / North African flavourings inherent in the title. Having heard the guitarist leading his own groups it’s interesting to hear his playing in a very different context.
The second part of “Mirage” emphasises those flavourings with Costello on soprano and Teixeira delivering a typically nuanced and subtly detailed performance on percussion.

“Panettone” is something of a feature for Goloubev with his melodic pizzicato bass playing a prominent role alongside the leader’s tenor. Goloubev’s solo above a backdrop of sparsely strummed guitar chords and Teixeira’s gently insistent snare tattoo is a thing of beauty, this followed by melodic but authoritative tenor solo from the leader. The closing stages then feature the sounds of Goloubev deploying the bow alongside a simple guitar accompaniment.

“Walking Through The Jungle” is rather more leisurely then the title might suggest but still has a spring in its step thanks to Pysz’s lithe guitar soloing and the leader’s subtly assertive tenor. The piece also includes a spirited exchange between the stellar rhythm team of Goloubev and Teixeira, who both shine throughout the album, but without ever stepping on the toes of the two front-line soloists.

The album concludes with a brief reprise of the lyrical “Corners”, this time arranged for the whole group. 

Costello has explained that many of the pieces began as little more than sketches with the group developing them collectively and putting flesh on the bones via collective jamming before going into the studio to record the fully finished product. This is a very well balanced group that combines discipline with an agreeable looseness to come up with seamlessly flowing music.

The album title “Transitions” refers both to the changes and ups and downs of everyday life but also the fact that several of the tunes, particularly during the first half of the album flow into one another.  Indeed Costello has stated that in live appearances the quartet have been playing the first seven numbers as a single performance, like a kind of suite.

As an album “Transitions” works very well with its blend of jazz with various folk and ethnic musics. There’s an agreeably exotic air about the recording and the playing from all four musicians is exceptional throughout. But there’s more to the music than mere individual virtuosity, “Transitions” has a relaxed, organic feel about it that makes the various stylistic juxtapositions sound perfectly natural and totally unforced. This is highly melodic music that is readily accessible, but consistently intriguing, and full of rhythmic sophistication. It all makes for a very distinctive album and one that deserves to do well.

The Julian Costello Quartet will be touring the album during Autumn 2017 with dates scheduled as follows;

Quartet Tour to launch new CD;

Friday 6th October JATP Jazz Glydegate
Little Horton Rd, Bradford BD5 OBQ

Saturday 7th October Jazz Coop Newcastle

Sunday 8th October Spring Bank Arts Centre
New Mills, High Peak SK22 4BH

Tuesday 10th October Pizza Express
CD Launch Transitions on 33 Jazz Records
Pizza Express Jazz Club, 10 Dean St, London W1D 3RW

Friday 13th October Bridport Arts centre
9 South Street, Bridport DT6 3NR

Sunday 22nd October 1pm The Oval
Oval Road Croydon CRO 6BR 1pm

Wednesday 25th October The Bull’s Head, Barnes, London SW13 9PY

Sunday 29th October Black Mountain Jazz
Melville Theatre Abergavenny NP7 5UD

Friday 3rd November Olivers Jazz Bar, Greenwich, London SE10 9JL

Wednesday 8th Nov SUJC
275 Christchurch Rd, West Parley, Ferndown BH22 8SQ

Friday 10th November Birmingham Jazz, 1000 Trades, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham

Further information at;

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