It is striking on hearing the superb 'Circularity' from upcoming Graham Costello album Second Lives (Gearbox, 7 May album release date) that at the moment based on recent releases the best new jazz in the UK from any region coming out in significant quantity and quality, not one identical sound by any means, is from Scotland.
The output has a certain style to it, sometimes drawing on traditional Scottish music, sometimes not. Quality of musicianship is high on the agenda but there is innovation and freshness too that strikes me as a factor elevating the profile of the jazz made north of the English border.
More reasons to back up the claim include reference to Cairn mentioned back in January by Fergus McCreadie links to Second Lives because pianist McCreadie is on the Costello record. (Besides the drummer gutsy emotive tenorist Harry Weir, trombonist Liam Shortall, guitarist Joe Williamson and bass guitarist Mark Hendry are also players involved on the Gearbox release).
On Cairn, which was released by Edition, the tunes are more the trio's than ever. And even better than on McCreadie's earlier Turas, a sense of lilting very Scottish ecstasy envelops the totality of the listening experience. The band is the same, still Bowden and Henderson on the case, and so suddenly the trio is completely a thing.
By contrast given the idiom (big band, more modern-mainstream) but again underlining how strong the Scottish scene is and sharing some link to Scottish musical traditions beyond jazz, from an older generation Paul Towndrow's Deepening the River is an achievement. The trumpet section within the sound one of the best that I have heard in many years searching. This homage to the Clyde sits alongside the work of the SNJO but also the WDR and JALCO, ergo world class, and the whole album has a life to it that you can't remotely fake although some big bands do try. The always fun and happening Brass Jaw seems a long time ago, Towndrow was at the heart of that funky outfit and remains one of the UK's top alto sax players.
Corto.Alto are also in the vanguard of the new Scottish scene. The momentum is coming to a boil.
Or take the very folky In a Sma Room themed around the poetry of William Soutar (1898-43) that spans an agelessness that chimes, singer-songwriter Debra Salem inhabiting the words and the songs completely flow. Guitarist Kevin MacKenzie and pianist Paul Harrison, violinist/violist/cellist Patsy Reid, bassist Andrew Robb and percussionist Signy Jakobsdóttir join Salem. There's a sense of wonder throughout that's nurtured and set free.
It wil be interesting and priority listening to discover what's coming next later in the year and to find out if the Scottish jazz scene manages to export itself internationally, a more difficult task not just because of the huge difficulties posed by the Pandemic to tour but to get heard beyond the usual suspects of jazz supporters who stick by the scene through thick and thin.
Second Lives from what we know of it so far while made in Scotland is outwards facing encompassing a Nordic quality to some of its momentum, you get that on earlier pre-release track 'Eudaimonia' a little. Somehow the Costello sound manages to use space to its advantage and the beat and accents have a style that the drummer-composer manages to shape into his compositional sense and emphasises his sheer individuality. Graham Costello top. Photo Gearbox