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CD Reviews

A bassist for all seasons, Sydney's Mark Costa was a resident on Australian Idol for seven years. Having escaped the clutches of innumerable shrieking larynxes, he has penned all the tunes on this very attractive album of fusion music, with guitarist James Muller, keyboards ace Bill Risby, drummer Gordon Rytmeister and percussionist Tony Azzopardi. Driving funk and rock feels give way to more lyrical pieces, so the album lives up to its title and handsomely escapes the flaw of some fusion: heard one track, heard 'em all. There is a special magic about the fiery imagination behind all the Muller solos. Hear them do it live at the Basement on Wednesday.

3 and a half out of 5 stars.

Review by John Shand, Sydney Morning Herald

"...great album!" ABC Jazz (Ausmusic Featured Album, Nov. 2010)

Australia is a land of beautiful sights, kangaroos, and even some great rock bands like AC/DC, INXS and Men at Work. But jazz is not the first word that comes to mind when talking about Australia. Sydney native bassist Mark Costa might change that perception with his album Textures.
Textures is a collection of interesting compositions in the jazz-fusion tradition. All compositions are originals by Mark Costa and like all good jazz music, Mark leaves a lot of space for improvisation. Dedication, the first track with good electric guitar solos by James Muller feels like 70's progressive rock.
Textures has a more jazzy feeling with Bill Risby on piano playing most of the melodies. Muller goes for a cleaner tone on the electric guitar on the jazz-fusion track End Games, this one reminds me of the music of pianist Hiromi Uehara. On Hidden Game, after a nice piano intro Mark lays down the groove for a cool exchange of melodic improvisations between piano and guitar.
Stand and Deliver has some interesting tempo changes from funk to jazz rhythms. Mark does a superb bass solo and Bill on synths accentuates that 70's jazz-fusion feel. The music on White Sands is reminiscent of Pat Metheny, another great jazz-fusion musician. Pendulum has a more traditional jazz, kind of a bebop feel to it. Showing that good musicians like Mark and friends can play in any jazz style, the CD ends with the beautiful ballad A Father's Love.

Reviewed by: Wilbert Sostre, JazzTimes (www.jazztimes.com)

Textures is an enjoyable Jazz Fusion album by Australian bassist Mark Costa. Surrounding himself with some of the country’s top contemporary jazz players, Costa and company produce an album that blends the vintage ‘70s fusion sound of Weather Report and the Chick Corea band with the more modern approach of the Pat Metheny Group. The end result is an album that is classic in nature, while providing enough modernity to pique the attention of even the most seasoned jazz fusion fan.
Dubbed as an “all-star band,” the group takes this opportunity to showcase their sense of ensemble as well as their ability to improvise in a solo setting. While the band was assembled by Costa, it is guitarist James Muller and pianist Bill Risby who carry much of the melodic and harmonic load throughout the album, as one would expect from a hornless jazz fusion group. These two capable musicians split the comping, blowing and melodic duties on the album’s eight tracks, with Muller’s performance being particularly noteworthy. The guitarist brings a chameleon like approach to each track, as his many influences take turns rising to the forefront of his playing, while all the while maintaining a personal touch that is distinctly his. Muller’s ability to call to mind players such as Allan Holdsworth and Metheny with his clean tone and melodic lines is a testament to the countless hours he has spent mastering his craft.
Of the more interesting aspects of Muller’s style are the moments when he sacrifices a small amount of technical precision to reach a higher level of emotion. His solo on “Textures” is a good example of this, where he may not be technically perfect but one hardly notices as they are caught up in the ever building climaxes of his lines and phrases. With the jazz fusion guitar world being known for its technical perfectionists like Frank Gambale, Al Di Meola and Scott Henderson, it is refreshing to hear a player bring a deep emotional connection to their playing alongside their chops.
From a compositional standpoint, Costa’s tunes are a reflection of some of his more prominent influences, in particular Chick Corea, Weather Report and the Pat Metheny Group. Fans of these fusion ensembles will recognize moments that bring to mind these giants of the genre. Still, this is not an imitation or tribute album of any sort. When listening to the record of a whole, the forest starts to emerge from the trees, and Costa’s influences become lost in a sound that is purely original. Costa’s ability to display a wide variety of harmonic choices, rhythmic variation, and ensemble textures are reasons why this album is able to stand up on its own and not lose the listener along the way. Kicking the album off with a fine example of odd-time writing, each track brings to light a different side of Costa’s writing style, such as the string padding in “End Game,” or the modal influenced harmony of “Pendulum.”
Jazz is a world of subtleties. Composers and arrangers who realize this and master the small nuances that allow complex music to be enjoyed by a general audience tend to have long and successful careers. With Textures, Costa takes the opportunity to place himself directly in this category of musician, one that is not afraid to acknowledge his influences while adding small twists and turns to each tune, and creating an album that appeals to the intellectual and casual listener alike.

Review by Matthew Warnock, Editor in Chief for Guitar International Magazine

Bass player and musical arranger Mark Costa compares the music on his 2010 album Textures to artists such as Tribal Tech and Pat Metheny. Considering the talent of these jazz/fusion artists, not to mention Metheny’s legendary status, a comparison of this nature is a bold statement to make. It would be an even bolder statement to back that up on the album, which is exactly what Costa and his team of talented musicians do.
Hailing from Australia, Costa’s credits include playing with Leo Sayer, Go West, Tom Jones and Chris Isaak. In addition, Costa has served as the bassist and arranger for the reality show, Australian Idol. Joining Costa on his debut album are guitarist James Muller, keyboardist Bill Risby, drummer Gordon Rytmeister and percussionist Tony Azzopardi. Together, this jazz quintet performs a stellar set of eight pieces written by Costa and covering a range of beautifully textured sounds.
The opening track, “Dedication”, begins with a gentle piano/keyboard opening that flows into the song’s main melody, carried by Muller’s guitar. Muller’s tonality and style is similar to Metheny’s but when he starts to solo, the speed and intensity with which he plays is more reminiscent of Brand X guitarist, John Goodsall. After the main refrain is established, Risby takes control of the song. The light percussion from Rytmeister and Azzopardi keep the emphasis on Risby as he plays with some various keyboard sounds in an atmospheric and energetic fashion. Around the four and a quarter minute mark, Muller takes the reigns and begins to solo, forming the song’s impressive coda. All the while he’s playing, Rytmeister’s drum fills keep the energy of the rhythm section right on cue, not losing a step to the controlled frenetic fretwork.
This formula is repeated again on the second song, the album’s title track. The song has distinct sections with it either being Risby or Muller’s playground for a while before they alternate. The beautiful part about this arrangement however is that no one outshines another. For all of Muller’s fast paced picking, Risby is able to compliment it beautifully with his soothing and graceful working of the keys. While he’s playing, Muller’s guitar licks can still be heard in the backing arrangement. The same can be said for Risby, too, while Muller is moving the song along.
And where is Costa in all this? The glue holding the song together is Costa’s exemplary bass work. The most wonderful thing about great jazz work is that as stellar as the combined sound is, there’s so much more to hear when listening to the individual parts. Costa’s bass playing is largely seamless, isn’t too pronounced, but when you listen for it on a track like “Hidden Gem”, you can hear how much of the song rests on his fingering of the strings.
Costa’s stand-out performance, and indeed, the best song on the album, is “Stand and Deliver”. This six-minute track is jazz/fusion at its finest. Rytmiester’s drums are crisp and powerful, Muller tears up and down the fret board, and Costa unleashes a magnificent slap bass solo that sounds as funky and groove heavy as anything Mark King ever laid down on a Level 42 song. The only disappointment in this song is that there’s not more like it on the album. Though every track here has a great degree of energy, the band wonderfully steps up their sound here and shines in a uniquely exciting way.
To a slightly lesser extent, that kind of excitement reappears on “White Sands”. The top and middle led by Risby’s keyboards and the sound and arrangement seems like it could’ve been taken from an expanded form of the Vince Guaraldi trio. Risby’s playing to the light percussion and cymbal work is evocative and serene. Even underneath Muller’s soloing, the piano chords set the mood for the song overall, with the guitar being the figurative icing to the cake.
Textures closes on a note similar to how it began. The album’s closer, “A Father’s Love,” is a tender, slow piece. Once again, there’s something to listen to in each performance. One of the more notable contributions is Rytmeister’s drums that manage to be as gentle as they are quick. Azzopardi’s added percussion, like the chimes that heighten the song’s emotion, is another significant factor in how well the song works as a closer.
Mark Costa has written a masterful piece of jazz-fusion work, and has also selected a perfect team of musicians to perform it. With no one performer out-shining any of the others, a synergy is produced that is ultimately the strongest asset of Textures. It would behoove any self-respecting jazz fan to have Mark Costa sitting on their CD rack next to Pat Metheny; just as Metheny himself would be in great company performing with or alongside Costa and his extremely talented crew.

Review by Heath Andrews, Host/Producer for Radio106VIC, USA. Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

SYDNEY bassist Mark Costa has put together a quintet of top-flight players for his debut CD of eight of his originals. Costa has undertaken study of the Schillinger system, which he says has enabled him to find a new compositional voice. Joseph Schillinger (1895-1943) was a composer and teacher who evolved a system of composition related to mathematics and who advised such famous US composers as George Gershwin and Benny Goodman, among many others. Costa's natural expertise is in the jazz-rock idiom, and these tracks cover a diverse range of tempos and interpretations. He has talented support from James Muller on guitar, Bill Risby on keyboards, Gordon Rytmeister on drums and percussionist Tony Azzopardi.

Review by John McBeath, The Australian. Rating: 3-1/2 out of 5 stars

"Original fusion by our best exponents..." Peter Wockner, ABC Limelight. Rating: 3 out of 5 stars