Carlo Costa's Acustica

Strata
Neithernor n/n 004

By Ken Waxman

Having firmly established himself with smaller bands, percussionist Carlo Costa's ups the ante with Strata, an extended score for 13 musicians, which like the sedimentary matter it reflects, intermingles graphical and notated scores plus improvisation to simultaneously expose sonic layers of substratum. Usually part of stand-alone duos, trios and quartets, the Italian-born, NYC-based Costa is just one of many younger musicians exploring the possibilities implicit in creating large-scale, cyclical performances, including his frequent associates, violinist Franz Loriot – who isn’t on this disc – and bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, who is.

Basically, the piece, recorded live at IBeam in 2014, carves out an interface midway between meandering Morton Feldman-like inevitability and AMM-like nearly endless discursions. Taken at a moderate tempo, the composition gains traction not from the brief solos, but from contrasting outbursts from paired or more numerous players, separated by a series of connective tutti. Furthermore, like the clattering from a presence stalking humans in a filmed ghost story, every so often unexplained signal processing-like judders are heard. But the strength of this composition – and the players’ skills – is that these sounds too are the result of wholly acoustic playing.

Throughout, challenges are set up and resolved. For instance the positioned strums of Todd Neufeld’s acoustic guitar are seconded by half valve effects from Joe Moffett’s trumpet. In another case Ben Gerstein’s gutty trombone bellicosity plus combined brass and reed section squeals are finally nudged into parallel forward motion via a soothing bass clarinet ostinato from Jean-Brice Godet. At points Costa joins with the dual bassists Niggenkemper’s and Sean Ali’s knotty sawing strings to keep the narrative balanced. His proficiency is such that the rhythmic impetus is implied, not with overloud effects, but with small bell-like pings and scuffs that seem to resonate from a matchbook cover rather than any part of the percussion set.

Costa’s dexterous arranging skills are confirmed in the composition’s final minutes. Following Kyungmi Lee’s upsetting piccolo shrills and factory-whistle-like clangor from the reeds, Jesse Stacken’s relaxed, half-speed piano chording sooths the narrative back to serenity. As he plays, there’s the sudden realization that this leitmotif has been expressed in variants throughout the piece. Stacken’s final notes explicitly link to the original theme and associate the exposition and conclusion as effectively as a reusable plastic storage bag is resealed.

Strata establishes Costa’s dexterity with large-scale as well as smaller forms.

Tracks: Strata

Personnel: Joe Moffett: trumpet; Ben Gerstein: trombone; Dan Peck: tuba; Jean-Brice Godet: clarinet, bass clarinet; Nathaniel Morgan: alto saxophone; Jonathan Moritz: tenor and soprano saxophones; Kyungmi Lee: flute, piccolo; Miranda Sielaff: viola; Jesse Stacken: piano; Todd Neufeld: acoustic guitar; Sean Ali and Pascal Niggenkemper: bass; Carlo Costa: percussion

—For The New York City Jazz Record January 2016