Named as one of Jazzwise Magazine's "One to Watch in 2019" and nominated for both "Best Band" and "Best EP/Album" at this year's Scottish Jazz Awards, Graham Costello’s STRATA blend stylistic elements of jazz, minimalism, and celebrated progressive/noise bands together with a strong DIY ethic, winning over audiences with towering dynamics and a raw and genuine enthusiasm. The music explores polyrhythm, collective groove and, at it's true core, improvisation.
As well as sell-out concerts and standing ovations at Scotland’s top jazz festivals, STRATA have ran their own monthly residency at Glasgow’s renowned independent venue Bloc. Here, they've continued to craft their sound and bring improvised music to newer audiences since February 2017, forging a strong and unique connection between the jazz and independent/underground communities.
Harry Weir - tenor saxophone
Liam Shortall - trombone
Fergus McCreadie - piano
Joe Williamson - guitar
Mark Hendry - electric bass
Graham Costello - drums and composition
"Watching STRATA is an intense and exhilarating experience, full of contrasts."
- L O N D O N J A Z Z N E W S -
"the unrelenting waves of cinematic imagery accrue an intensity that never seems to level off, even after the last note has faded."
- B A N D C A M P -
"their glinting, jazz rock has been like a meteorite on the scene in Scotland and beyond."
- T H E N A T I O N A L -
Link to the Show
A link to the show can be found here:
With its smart contemporary touches and comic book source material, Wing Walker Orchestra's nifty debut album, Hazel, likely won't draw comparisons to The Far East Suite. But it's no stretch to say that writer-arranger Drew Williams' spirited East Coast ensemble owes more than a little to the Duke Ellington masterpiece.
Williams, a native of Kansas City, was early into his studies as a classical saxophone major at Missouri's Truman State University when one of his professors kept after him to join the jazz improvisers on campus.
When the professor, well-regarded saxophonist Tim AuBuchon, succeeded in getting his promising student to participate, the results weren't pretty. "I was terrible," Williams said. "I had never even used a jazz mouthpiece. I couldn't play in tune."
But he kept at it, schooling himself on albums by contemporary players his instructor told him to listen to. With its unforgettable tones and melodies, The Far East Suite opened Williams up not only to the glowing possibilities of playing as well as composing jazz music.
The rub was that Truman State didn't offer a jazz degree. By time Williams decided he wanted to pursue jazz, two years into his studies, it was too late to leave. But, he said, "It turned out to be an incredible experience." Free of the codified approach of many jazz schools, he was able to find his own voice at his own pace. (He also found himself with a bass clarinet when AuBuchon, a onetime regular on the Chicago scene with two well-received albums to his credit, sold him his vintage model for cheap.)
Now here is Williams at 30, leading an innovative 11-person ensemble featuring some of the best young players in the country. Playing bass clarinet exclusively on Hazel, he fulfills a dream in combining his love of film music and his love of graphic novels by adapting Saga, the popular Star Wars-inspired space opera of which he is enamored, as a seven-part suite.
The album, produced by Alan Ferber and released on the ears&eyes label, also boasts intoxicating versions of Tune-Yards' "Look Around" (from the album Nikki Nack) and as a bonus track, Michael Attias' "Marina," one in a series of lo-fi electronic pieces by that first-rate saxophonist.
"When I cover stuff, I'd rather blow it up and try it from a different angle," said Williams. "On 'Look Around' the melodies are so incredible and difficult to notate, they're hard to mimic, but we locked into the groove and kept the groove dirty and loose. It builds to a kind of Mingus free for all."
"Marina," regarded by its composer as too difficult to play, did indeed prove to be a challenge for Williams and company. But after playing it live over the course of two years, the orchestra adopted it as one of their favorites.
Williams, who is picky about saxophonists, drafted a pair of terrific ones to animate the music and attain the right harmonic warmth: altoist (and clarinetist) Brad Mulholland and tenorist Eric Trudel. The band also features trumpeters John Blevins and Danny Gouker, trombonists Karl Lyden and Nick Grinder, guitarist Jeff McLaughlin, bassist Adam Hopkins and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell. Everyone leaves their mark.
Williams was born on June 29, 1988 in Lee's Summit, Missouri. At 15, he knew he wanted to pursue music as a career. Albums including Ben Allison's Little Things Run the World, featuring tenor saxophonist Michael Blake, helped win him over to jazz. "It sounded more like the rock music I was playing in high school than jazz," he said.
The deeper Williams got into playing jazz, and the more he was exposed to other rock-influenced jazz composers including Guillermo Klein, the more he became interested in writing it. Here, too, he struggled in the early going. "Nothing was happening with my early pieces," he said. "Some of what I wrote kinda worked, then it didn't, then it did, then one day I wrote two chords and said, can we play this? Baby steps."
He experienced a breakthrough with a set of music he wrote for a college recital. He used those pieces when he auditioned, successfully, for New York University's Master's program in jazz composition. During his time there, he had the great good fortune of studying with faculty heavies Ralph Alessi, Alan Ferber and Rich Perry.
Wing Walker Orchestra, drawn partly from his NYU confreres, came together gradually. The first song Williams composed for the band, the edgy, ethereal "Forest Boats," was inspired by the films of Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). "I wanted to capture the melancholy, folksy and quirky feeling of the music in these films, for which Jon Brion did most of the scoring," he said.
With its recurring characters, layered themes and interlaced motifs, "Forest Boats" pointed the way to Hazel. Among the distinctive touches on the "Hazel Suite" are drum overdubs and hand claps that boost the energy and intensity of the music.
The orchestra has provided a platform and arrangements for the compositions of such formidable guest players as Michael Attias, Shane Endsley, Jonathan Finlayson and Jason Palmer. The ensemble also has collaborated with the Festival of New Trumpet Music to present two nights of expansive sounds. And Williams has promoted Wind Walker Orchestra and the scene it is part of (he also plays with and composes for Mister Mozart, Bolo and Matterhorn) by hosting a podcast and compiling ear-opening mixtapes.
"I'd like to think that my music reflects all the musical experiences I've had in my life," he said. "I played rock music in high school, got an undergraduate degree in classical music and acquired a Master's in jazz composition. I'm creating music that fits between the lines."
A link to the show can be found here:
Forward-thinking UK trio Vula Viel release their sophomore album, ‘Do Not Be Afraid’ on 25th January 2019, continuing their unique musical journey centred around the Gyil (Ghanaian xylophone).
The band’s new set confidently weaves sparse polyrhythms and intricate rhythm structures around bandleader Bex Burch’s Gyil lines and take the instrument’s sound into new territory, with bassist Ruth Goller (Acoustic Ladyland, Melt Yourself Down, Rokia Traore) and drummer Jim Hart (Cloudmakers, Ralph Alessi, Electric Biddle) introducing a rough, post-punk edge to the band’s sound.
In Bex’s own words: “I have loved making this music. The incredible Dagaare systems which form the foundation have given me the structure on which to write tunes, craft grooves and choose my own meanings. I’ve gone deeper into what moves me in the Dagaare music, the fundamentals - asymmetry, space and chaos. I love how Do Not Be Afraid feels - a totally unusual and unique groove. As musicians, Ruth and Jim are incredible: They bring passion, talent, intuition and a depth that I wouldn’t have access to without them.”
Vula Viel was formed in 2013 by Bex Burch. After studying at Guildhall and training as a classical percussionist, she embarked on a life-changing three-year period living, farming and studying with xylophone master Thomas Sekgura in Upper West Ghana; the band’s name means ‘Good is Good’ in the Dagaare language. After being mentored in the deep traditions around the Gyil, a large African xylophone made of sacred lliga wood, Burch began the journey to bring the instrument into her own music. The acclaimed debut Vula Viel album in 2015, ‘Good is Good’, was the first realisation of her vision and ‘Do Not Be Afraid’ is the first set of Burch originals,written on traditional Dagaare forms.
Described as “Ghanaian minimalism”, with the unassuming ability to blur the lines between atmospheres – Vula Viel’s sound may nod to Steve Reichian jazz, but influences don’t stop there: one can hear echoes of Bill Laswell and the irresistible energy of Arthur Russell.
A links to the show can be found here:
‘A shape-shifting sound..moves coherently between crisp, punchy riffing and introspective ambient passages’ - Kevin Le Gendre
Award winning Tyneside trio Archipelago fuse genre blending post-jazz dreamscapes with alt-rock and improvisation to name a few, taking inspiration from musicians as diverse as Don Cherry, Morphine and Joni Mitchell.
Since releasing their debut LP ‘Weightless’ in 2017, Archipelago have received national airplay (Late Junction, Jazz on 3), been selected as ambassador artists for the Jazz North ‘Northern Line’ touring scheme, and received a prestigious 'Peter Whittingham Development Award’ from Help Musicians UK.
With the support of Help Musicians UK and Cobalt Studios in Newcastle upon Tyne, they began running ‘BETWEEN WAVES’, a collaborative residency-gig series for female-identifying artists to make new music with Archipelago. Highlighting the multifaceted power of improvisation and jazz to cross genres and open up connections with artists in different modes, BETWEEN WAVES also celebrates the ever growing northern creative scenes. After receiving a huge number of applications, Archipelago invited Rosie Frater-Taylor, a multi-instrumentalist/songwriter, Faith Brackenbury, an improvisor/violinist/vocalist, Lisette Auton, a disabled writer/spoken word artist and Fran Bundey, a sound artist/vocal looping musician for their first edition of BETWEEN WAVES.
Archipelago are now working towards their next release in 2019 and also collaborating as a ‘superband’ with Leeds trio J Frisco after a commission from Lancaster Jazz Festival. Archipelago have a fast growing reputation for their honest, engaged musicianship and compelling live performances
Links to the shows can be found here:
I’m chasing the lofty goal of being able to play everything,” says the pianist, composer and educator Dave Meder, discussing the panoramic, genre-bending approach that has earned him slots in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition and the American Pianists Awards.
At only 28, Meder has already found a uniquely versatile artistic voice, evident in his debut album, Passage (Outside In Music), a dynamically interactive piano-trio outing with appearances by generation-defining saxophonists Chris Potter and Miguel Zenón. Traversing an affecting gospel standard, a bold deconstruction of Monk, a title track inspired by minimalists Philip Glass and John Adams, and pieces featuring the most progressive ideas in jazz harmony, rhythm and improvisation, Passage is the work of a young artist whose defining aesthetic is his remarkable sense of stylistic adventure. Indeed, his most appropriate touchstones are historically resourceful postmodernists like Jaki Byard—a hero to whom Meder paid tribute at Jazz at Lincoln Center—and two of Byard’s proteges, Jason Moran and Fred Hersch.
On top of the album’s next-level playing, Passage is an ideal showcase for Meder’s cultivated gifts as a composer-arranger, talents that earlier earned him an ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award, the FirstMusic Commission of the New York Youth Symphony and a slot in the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop. In the way of live performance, his abilities have been no less lauded. Meder has performed in some of New York’s most hallowed jazz rooms, with dates at Smalls Jazz Club, a multi-night solo-piano engagement at Jazz at Kitano and several headlining stands at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. His international bookings have included a Tokyo Jazz Festival appearance with a big band led by Makoto Ozone, as well as a guest appearance with the Tom Jobim Youth Orchestra at São Paulo’s iconic Ibirapuera Auditorium. In 2013 he won the esteemed Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition, formerly the Great American Piano Competition. Meder has also been named a finalist for the 2019 American Pianists Association Cole Porter Fellowship—like the Monk competition, among the most prestigious contests in jazz.
As the Assistant Professor of Jazz Piano at the University of North Texas, Meder is the youngest instructor employed in one of the nation’s most renowned music programs. Before he relocated from New York to Texas for the UNT post, he taught at NYU and Juilliard; he also served as a guest instructor abroad in Italy, as part of the Juilliard Jazz Workshop, and Honduras, in a program facilitated by the U.S. State Department.
Remarkably, the beginnings of Meder’s jazz education were mostly self-guided. Born, raised and classically trained in Tampa, Florida, he was still a teenager when he began teaching at a local music shop, while also building his own private teaching practice. While ensconced in his classical studies, he was persuaded by friends to help them form a jazz band in their middle school, whose music department lacked a formal jazz program. With oversight from a generous band director, the jazz ensemble became a reality and Meder became enamored of the art form, working at it largely on his own until college.
During undergraduate studies at Florida State University—from which Meder graduated summa cum laude in 2013 with degrees in music, Spanish and political science—tutelage under Marcus Roberts bolstered the pianist’s strikingly authentic handle on historical jazz styles. He was able to immerse himself in the music’s legacy firsthand in 2011, when he took part in two of jazz education’s most crucial incubators, the Kennedy Center’s Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program and the Steans Music Institute at the Ravinia Festival. Through these opportunities, Meder interfaced with and learned from such jazz legends as George Cables, Nathan Davis, Curtis Fuller and David Baker.
A move to New York in 2013 afforded Meder a chance to study with jazz’s leading edge. In the city, his mentors included Kenny Barron, Dave Douglas, Ari Hoenig, Mark Turner, Jean-Michel Pilc and Fred Hersch, as well as, from the classical world, Julian Martin and Philip Lasser. After earning his master’s from NYU, he continued on to Juilliard, where he received an Artist Diploma and toured as part of the premier ensemble of the school.
Concurrent to his graduate studies, Meder worked for three years as the music director of Fordham Lutheran Church in the Bronx, furthering another creative through-line in his life. “I was raised in the church, and I’ve always played there,” Meder says. “In the context of all the other ‘brainy’ stuff I’ve studied in school, [the church] forced me to make a soulful connection to it—to try and make what I was absorbing more personal and musical.” Indeed, his music conveys a tremendous depth, yet remains eminently soulful, a common aspiration not often attained in modern jazz.
Links to the shows can be found here:
Links to the shows can be found here:
Described as “An innovator" and “A gamechanger" by The Guardian, British guitarist Ant lives in London and leads his quintet, dubbed “An exciting band to hear live" by John Fordham. Their debut 'Entanglement' was released in 2013 to great acclaim, followed by 'Zero Sum World' in 2015. They have toured extensively and their third album 'Life I Know' for Edition Records was released on the 9th of November 2018. The release was very warmly received by the press. It received 5 star reviews, made numerous “best of 2018" lists, received airplay in the UK, Europe, Australia, and hundreds of thousands of plays (and counting) on Spotify. It is being described as “career-defining".
Ant has played in Tim Garland's band with Jason Rebello & Asaf Sirkis, featuring on 'Songs To The North Sky', 'Return To The Fire' and 'ONE' which was shortlisted for a Grammy and won the Jazzwise Best Album award. He is a member of Trio HLK who record/tour with Dame Evelyn Glennie. He has also worked with Cory Henry, Thomas Gould and is frequently featured in “Total Guitar" and “Guitar Techniques" magazines, in which he was recently listed as an “Astounding Virtuoso". Ant has an interest in Physics, which he read as a scholar at Edinburgh University.
2016 saw the emergence of the Art Of Rhythm Trio featuring Matt Ridley (bass) and Asaf Sirkis (drums and konnakol). In April/May they played a 20-date tour all over the UK, supported by the Arts Council. They had played together in a different ensembles but the tour allowed them to consolidate their musical relationships and develop the trio dynamic. Most notable perhaps is the inclusion of Indian classical elements (check out the youtube videos) such as konnakol, the South-Indian spoken percussion, amidst all the jazz. This group is touring on an ongoing basis and they hope to see you at a gig soon!
Ant was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he lived until the age of 16. From a young age he was exposed to early blues and rock 'n' roll, as well as Arabic music. He began playing piano and guitar around the age of 8. Throughout his teens he gravitated towards the guitar. A history teacher gave him a video of Stevie Ray Vaughan playing live at the El Mocambo, which was a huge influence, along with videos of Guns 'n' Roses, Queen, and later on Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.
Other than the classical piano training, Law's only formal schooling in music was one semester on scholarship at Berklee College Of Music, Boston. This he says was crucial because he heard gospel music and gospel drummers for the first time, and lots of Latin American music. The semester was completed in the middle of a Physics degree he was reading at Edinburgh University, also as a scholar. It was whilst studying the degree that he became obsessed with jazz and played his first jazz gigs. By this point he had discovered and started to use Perfect 4ths tuning for the guitar. In a case of convergent evolution however, other players (like Stanley Jordan and Tom Quayle) had also discovered and were using this same tuning. Allan Holdsworth has said that if he could start again, he would tune this way. Ant wrote a book introducing the tuning entitled “3rd Millenium Guitar" which is published by Mel Bay.
After completing the degree he concentrated on make a living playing guitar, eventually moving to London and immersing himself in the scene there. He also lived in NYC for a season to study with his heroes Ari Hoenig, Ben Monder, Adam Rogers, Lage Lund, Gilad Hekselman, Johannes Weidenmueller, Tim Miller and others.
Links to the shows can be found here:
Each step that guitarist and composer David Ullmann has taken along his musical path has been an unpredictable one. Reinvention has been the key to each new release; his music thrives on surprising combinations of electric and acoustic sounds as well as left-field additions like tabla and sitar.
Such inventive thinking has led the New York Times to call Ullmann “a thoughtful guitarist and composer,” while All About Jazz has praised his ability to provide listeners with “a satisfying sense of taking a journey.”
On his 2005 debut, Hidden, the New York City native kept listeners off balance with an eclectic mix of influences from modern jazz and jam band rock to funk, soul and country balladry. His follow-up, Falling (2011), further pulled the rug out with a guitar/vibes/sax frontline that aimed for a free-fall feeling with dreamy atmospherics and gentle but off-kilter angularity.
Ullmann’s latest release, Corduroy (2014), expanded the band to an octet and drew inspiration from a wholly unexpected source: the brassy, memorable theme songs from Ullmann’s ‘70s childhood. The result was simultaneously fresh and nostalgic, with exhilarating playing as the ensemble navigated the music’s narrative twists and turns.
On his forthcoming album Sometime, Ullmann takes the concept of reinvention and applies it to his own catalogue. Using an unreleased organ trio date as a leaping-off point, Ullmann fleshed out the music with a larger ensemble of collaborators, taking what was a lively soul-jazz outing into strange and exciting new territory with the addition of synths, sitar, mandolin, vibes, horns and percussion.
Unlike many of his peers on the jazz scene, Ullmann didn’t undertake an odyssey to reach the jazz mecca of New York City. He was born and raised in the metropolis, and its diverse soundscape has certainly influenced his wide-spectrum music. He discovered the guitar through legendary classic rock bands like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, and absorbed those artists’ open-eared approach.
The improvisational nature of jazz drew Ullmann out of the rock world, as did the profound experience of taking lessons at the Philadelphia home of legendary guitarist Pat Martino. Ullmann studied more formally at the acclaimed jazz program at the New School, where his teachers included such six-string masters as Peter Bernstein, Gene Bertoncini and Vic Juris and pianist Garry Dial. The Indian music influences that continue to permeate his music were sparked by studies of the tabla with Misha Massud and the sitar with future Joe Zawinul guitarist Amit Chatterjee.
He went on to earn his Master’s Degree at NYU, where he was able to take private lessons with such greats as guitarists Wayne Krantz, Brad Shepik and Adam Rogers, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Ari Hoenig. He also enjoyed the opportunity to work in the ensembles of jazz legends Joe Lovano and John Scofield, performing and recording with both. During this time Ullmann was a member of the winning group in the 2018 Costa Rica Promising Artist Series.
Since graduating, Ullmann has passed those formative lessons on and has taught guitar and songwriting at John Jay College as well as guitar at NYU , while maintaining an active performing schedule that has taken him to such hallowed venues as CBGB, the Blue Note, Wetlands and the Knitting Factory as well as current hotspots like the 55 Bar and Barbès.
It’s when writing and playing his own original music that Ullmann’s originality truly shines, however. Taking his cue from earwig theme songs like the ones that opened The Rockford Files, M*A*S*H, Taxi or Barney Miller, Ullmann devised the music on Corduroy as a prime time line-up of imagined vintage television. It’s easy to envision the car chases and shoot-outs that might accompany the music realized by the virtuosic octet, which features Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Brian Drye (trombone), Mike McGinnis (clarinets), Loren Stillman (alto saxophone), Chris Dingman (vibraphone), Gary Wang (double-bass) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums). At the same time, the emotional immediacy of important influences like Jim Hall and Bill Frisell is never obscured. Bird is the Worm called the album “one of the more melodically rich albums [of] 2014,” while DownBeat’s Ken Micallef applauded the music for accomplishing a rare distinction: “jazz as easily enjoyable as a great pop tune.”
Dingman, Wang, Sperrazza and saxophonist Karel Ruzicka joined Ullmann on his previous album, Falling, which the composer intended “to capture the idea of getting lost within the music – to explore falling into some mood or sound, being temporarily transported.” His success is attested to by the widespread praise the album received: Philadelphia City Paper called it “contemplative” and “shimmering,” while Washington City Paper singled out the ensemble’s ability to “float with grace.” Something Else! pointed to the “forward-minded compositions,” and Critical Jazz marveled over the album’s “intense waves of creativity.”
Those elements were already evident on Ullmann’s acclaimed debut, Hidden. The band for that album consisted of longtime collaborators, including pianist/keyboardist Joe Ashlar and drummer Vin Scialla, both of whom also played with Ullmann in the band Mission: On Mars. All About Jazz admired the album’s “restless creativity,” saying that “each track builds on the next and works to keep the listener on guard and engaged.”
Ullmann’s conceptual vision applies to his captivating playing as well as his compositions. DownBeat hailed his thoughtful work on Falling, saying “his restrained, tasteful solos display the narrative arc of a veteran storyteller.” He’s carried that cinematic sense onto the actual big screen as well, composing music for several feature films and documentaries. He’s formed an ongoing collaboration with filmmaker D.W. Young, scoring his narrative feature The Happy House and the documentary A Hole in the Fence. He will also compose the music for the forthcoming The Booksellers, a compelling peek into the world of New York’s rare book collectors.
Wherever Ullmann’s path leads next, the only sure thing is that it won’t be in an obvious direction. “There are so many wonderful things in the world to be curious about,” he sums up. “That’s what I try to bring to my music-making no matter what the project is – openness, curiosity and a sense of possibility in collaboration and creativity.”
Links to the shows can be found here:
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