GRAHAM Costello’s band Strata has only been around since 2016 but their glinting, jazz rock has been like a meteorite on the scene in Scotland and beyond.

As well as playing sold-out gigs and gathering acclaim at jazz festivals, the corset-tight outfit were nominated twice at last year’s Scottish Jazz Awards and named as Jazzwise magazine’s “ones to watch” for 2019.

Allying elements of progressive jazz with minimalism and improvisation, Strata make music that’s rigorous, exhilarating and packs plenty of crossover appeal. That’s not to say the drummer’s band compromise on their sound: Obelisk, the pacey the title track of their debut album, is a series of duels, first between pianist Fergus McCreadie and guitarist Joe Williamson and then saxophonist Harry Weir and trombonist Liam Shortall.

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At almost nine and a half minutes it’s relentless – and thrilling. Everything is tethered to the polyrythms of Costello himself, a self-taught drummer from the age of six.

In ethos and energy, the record recalls the math-rock of Polvo and Don Caballero, mid-to-late 1990s US bands with a love for complex, well calibrated dynamics and ever-shifting time signatures. They totally rocked.

“I totally loved all that – that’s my background really,” says Costello, speaking to The National in a break from teaching drums. Like Don Caballero, Strata make compelling music which is entirely instrumental.

And just as the influential Pittsburgh band were driven by the whiplash licks of Damon Che, Strata is also led by a virtuoso drummer – Costello himself was nominated as musician of the year at last year’s Scottish Jazz Awards.

That’s extraordinary for such a new artist in a scene associated with tenure and technicality.

He only came to formal music study after leaving school, he explains.

“We had to choose between music and art, and I chose art,” says Costello, whose highly intricate pencil drawing is the album’s cover art.

“I considered going down a path with that but when I left school, I had a moment when I realised I wanted to be a musician. It was a gut feeling.”

He followed his guts first to the Academy of Music and Sound on Glasgow’s Jamaica Street, and then to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to study drums, where his first year was a “baptism of fire”, he says.

During that time he played with his brother in noise duo Young Philadelphia and was a member of rated Glasgow krautrockers Outblinker, with whom he toured across Europe.

He rose to the challenge of intense study at the RCS, graduating with a first-class honours degree in 2016, and left Outblinker on good terms to pursue Strata.

To paraphrase Michael Jackson, Strata are not like the other jazz bands. Though the six men will improvise passages, the majority of music, including the transitions, are meticulously composed by Costello for each instrument. And rather than the casual hook-ups and sight-reading gigs of the jazz world, Strata are most definitely a band, says Costello, and a band that practise mighty hard.

“Rehearsals in the jazz scene was a massive culture shock to me,” he says. “I was used to tons and tons of rehearsals, not just one-offs. I bring that to Strata. We rehearse so much, until the music is in our bones. Strata is kind of like a clock made from a lot of interlocking parts; an emotional clock rather than a robotic clock.”

Strata is Costello’s attempt to fuse the worlds of jazz and the DIY underground rock scene, he says.

“That’s a founding principle. There are a lot of awesome things happening in both scenes but they never really met.

“People who went to DIY gigs wouldn’t be at jazz gigs and vice-versa. There are amazing things musically from both scenes. There is an air of elitism around the jazz scene and I want to get rid of that completely.”

Tonight, The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen, 8pm, £13.50, £11.50 concs, £5.63 students.
Obelisk is out now on Bpqd Records