Second Lives: an espresso with Graham Costello and STRATA

October 12, 2021

“Second Lives” is the new album by the STRATA sextet led by Scottish drummer and composer Graham Costello. We interviewed him for Jazzespresso. 

> Ivano Rossato 

How were the compositions contained in “Second Lives born? How much improvised music do you listen to on the record?
It all starts on the piano for me, and it’s a very intuitive process. Due to the music being, at times, complex, I don’t bring the music to the band until it’s 90% complete. Then we begin the rehearsal process and rehearsing working on until we can really feel the music. I always say the music needs to be “in our bones” for it to truly be played with comfort. This music does not work if even one person isn’t fully comfortable in their part – otherwise the whole sound is compromised.

A majority of the album is fully composed, but I always allow a mixture of improvisation and interpretation throughout my music. The STRATA sound is to have the band sound as one. Individual rhythms and melodies coming together to express one singular idea.

The play of hypnotic dynamics and polyrhythms seems to be a distinctive feature of the STRATA sextet: is it a natural alchemy or is it the result of a pre-existing idea?
Dynamics have always been hugely important to me, and fully embracing the entire spectrum of dynamics too, from meditative and super soft, to a full-on wall of sound noise. This and the polyrhythmic nature of the music has been something I have been developing with the band since our inception. There is a certain way to play in this band, and all the guys know this. The approach is different compared to the other bands we play in together. It’s becoming far less about the classic individual jazz solos, and more about how the group plays together organically as one.
A song like Eudaimonia expresses well the “three-dimensional” and spacious sound that characterizes the whole album. Do you agree with this feeling? Was it an effect sought from the beginning?
I think that’s a great observation! Eudaimonia certainly does contain a lot of what I would define as the STRATA sound: minimalistic repetition, bold dynamics, patience, and build. It’s a sound that’s always evolving in my head, but the hypnotic quality of human repetition is really where I see the band further exploring more. I didn’t begin with the intention of it being like that, and I said my writing is very intuitive and I follow where my gut instinct takes me. It just so happened that Eudamonia serves as a good introduction to STRATA.
What evolution does “Second Lives represent compared to the debut album “Obelisk, also thinking about the interaction between the 6 musicians?
I definitely thought about this album more as a writer than as a “drummer who writes music”. If certain pieces felt better without drums, then that’s how it would be. That’s why on a “drummer’s album” there’s three pieces without me playing. I also wanted to challenge myself with this album in writing and developing the STRATA sound without the long run time of our previous album, so “Second Lives is far more compositionally focussed. But these songs have already begun to grow and develop more in the live environment, and having the difference between “album version” and “live version” of my music was always an intention. In terms of our group dynamic, it’s always developing. We’ve been playing together as a band for nearly six years now, so that chemistry allows me to fully explore the intricacy of that interplay we’ve grown and worked on. I’m very excited for what’s to come.
What are your plans for the near future?
2022 will be a lot more shows and concerts. We have some exciting shows already in the future! When we released “Second Lives, it was still at a time when we couldn’t fully support it with concerts and tours. So we’ll be playing and developing that music together a lot over the coming year. That’s one of my favourite parts of the process – seeing how the music grows. 
Second Lives: an espresso with Graham Costello and STRATA copyright Jazzespresso 2021.
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