Graham Costello’s STRATA (Credit: Press)

As the festival is nearly drawing to a close STRATA Expanded’s performance was like a battle cry. A roar of unbridled passion that charged into the unknown, carved a path for the future of Scottish Jazz and tore up the rulebook for good measure.

A pillar of Glasgow’s blossoming young jazz scene, Graham Costello’s STRATA made a triumphant return to the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival alongside an expanded instrumentation in the form of a hand-picked string quartet. Featuring newly commissioned compositions for the event, this all-star group of musicians broke new ground all in the space of a 90-minute journey of discovery.

From the very first minutes one felt as if they were on a one-way trip to a new world. A world filled with beauty, conflict, chaos and horror. Costello and his pantheon of artists were shaping a musical odyssey before our very eyes, with the dark, almost starlit background acting as their canvas.

Graham Costello crashes in with the ferocity of a tidal wave but with the speed and precision of a rifle. Evoking a sense of internal strife in his solo performances, the sheer aggression and focus on display demands one’s attention. Pianist Fergus McCreadie in many ways steals the show. An absolute spectacle to behold, he becomes more and more immersed into the sounds he is creating with every stroke of the keys until music and man are almost indistinguishable.

The world of STRATA far exceeds the confines of genre, defying any true form of characterization. Harry Weir is a force of nature behind the tenor saxophone, each hauntingly beautiful bellow he emitted was like an emotional sucker punch, his solos feeling more like a eulogy than being fueled by a fiery passion. The string quartet which joins the original line-up only adds to the emotional complexity and depth of the STRATA sound evoking elements of classical symphonies generating a sense of sorrow, fear and triumph. The bass and guitar duets on the other hand, perhaps my favourite performances, channeled an air of progressive rock feeling far more King Crimson than John Coltrane creating a sound that shares the horrors of the vast unknown through its unsettling echoes.

A masterclass of solo and ensemble play, STRATA Expanded was a musical achievement from the first piano key to the final strum of the bass. Graham Costello and company are far more than just musicians, they are pioneers braving the unknown and showcasing their discoveries. We were just passengers bearing witness to its magnificence.

By Sonny Neil