Italian-born percussionist Carlo Costa has lived in New York since 2005, where he’s enriched a variety of jazz-oriented projects with his turbulent, fascinating sense of propulsion. He’s also developed another distinctive aesthetic, which for few years now he’s showcased via his own Neither/Nor label, which releases Costa’s music and that of his close collaborators: it’s a texture-first approach, rooted in a strong improvisational ethos. Friction has a home at Neither/Nor.
A few months ago the label issued Environ, the fourth recording by Natural Morta, Costa’s trio with American double bassist Sean Ali and French violist Frantz Loriot. Its three extended works bustle with all sorts of rubbing, scratching, thwacking, and thrumming, so that it’s occasionally difficult to tell who’s doing what: I hear the squeaks of a bow on Styrofoam, plucked strings in gnarled, crab-clawed bunches, strident patterns of sibilant grinding, abrasive arco playing flecked with harmonics, bowed cymbals, and more. That might suggest a whole lot of noise and not much else, but the trio meticulously blend their sounds and tone colors with a keen ear toward timbre, sometimes adopting more conventional musical roles to give the evolving pieces extra shape and drama—on album opener “Pulvis,” which you can hear below, Costa adds sustained waves of cymbal patter and tom rumbles.
“Ventus” drives more deliberately, with Costa playing his kit more or less rhythmically while Ali produces lacerating bass drones and Loriot digs into his viola’s upper register to generate bagpipe-like skree—a combination of high and low that’s both ecstatic and piercing. And as they pull back into relatively serene long tones, Costa relaxes too, switching to a more frictive approach.
Earlier this year Neither/Nor put out My Tongue Crumbles After, a solo album by Ali on which he transforms the bass into an incredible resonator and noise maker, using the same kind of tactile extended techniques that French bassist Pascal Niggenkemper (who’s worked with this circle of musicians) does on his own Look With Thine Ears (Clean Feed). In the record’s press materials, Ali writes, “The album was conceived of as having a certain architecture, which is meant to express the process of any aggregated object or body on a path of emergence from nothingness, growth, fruition, decay, and ultimate dissolution and return to nothingness.”
That language might be a bit lofty, but it’s describing a pretty elemental storyline. Ali enhances his playing with noisy field recordings and distorted prerecorded speech that he hopes will capture “the endless interior monologues that we have as conscious beings,” but the album is satisfying even if you don’t make an effort to follow the narrative or its flurry of barely articulated thought. Ali uses many of the same sounds he contributes to Natura Morta: viscous, manic bowing; thorny thickets of bent, high-velocity plucking; and measured, woody lines that alternate between leisurely, minimalist melodies and rapidly pulsing tones. Below you can check out the opening track, “Salutations”—it’s one of the album’s densest pieces, with plenty of chaotic tape elements.
Various artists, The Rhythms of Black Peru (Secret Stash)
Objets Trouvés, Fresh Juice (Intakt)
Guelewar Band of Banjul, Warteef Jiggen (PMG)
Alina Ibragimova, Bach: Violin Concertos (Hyperion)
John Phillips, John the Wolfking of L.A. (Varese Sarabande)