Dan Costa ~ Pianist & Composer

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Dan Costa was born in London to Portuguese and Italian parents. He has lived in eight countries. I mention this, because Dan is somewhat of a troubadour, frequently travelling from country to country and always absorbing the musical influences. He listens carefully, interprets, and then takes it to a new level entirely, and this 

brings something essential to his music. It is not so much a sense of place but a sense of the world at large and its limitless possibilities. Nowhere is this more evident than in his second album ‘Skyness’. Check it out on the streaming platforms, and like me, you will return again and again. It is rare to encounter music with such heart-stopping beauty.    

Costa is an interesting interview subject, partly because he is so well travelled, but also because he is expansive and erudite. In fact, he speaks eight languages and judging by his English, many fluently. He is an internationalist and an environmentalist. He is also an advocate for animal rights. All of the above illustrates the point that a good musician is not just about the notes. Character and lived experience are the ‘finishing school. This is refreshing to encounter.

Costa is deeply influenced by Brazilian Jazz, but I can detect other Latin influences like Flamenco and Fado. He is a thoughtful player who makes every note count. His voicings and time feel, especially at the slower tempos, are impeccable. It is no wonder that such fulsome praise is being heaped upon him by the likes of Jazziz, Jazz Word, Jazz Weekly, Musica Brasiliero, New York Music Daily etc. 

And his collaborations with the likes of Randy Brecker, Seamus Blake, Hermeto Pascoal and the wonderful Ivan Lins have crafted wonder upon wonder. He creates such open vehicles; composed and arranged so as to invite maximum participation. The musicians he has worked with are quick to say so and their praise keeps coming.

His prior recorded output has set him on an interesting journey, so his newest album ‘Beams’ will be eagerly anticipated. It is about light in its different forms. With him on ‘Beams’ his core trio, John Patitucci and Paulinho Vicente, with guests Mike Stern, Dave Douglas, Dave Liebman, Anne Bocatto, Hermeto Pascoal and Teco Cardoso. The album teaser is posted here and I can’t wait to hear the rest of it. For information on albums and tours, go to his website www.dancosta.net

 JL32  Good evening Dan. Thank you for giving me a few hours out of your busy schedule. As a traveller myself, I must say that I am impressed by how much of the planet you have covered to date. 

DC  Hi John, nice to connect, Yes, I have lived in eight countries and travelled to around 60 as a musician or tourist, but there is still a lot to see. It is an interesting world and I hope to live in more countries and to keep travelling. One of my friends is buying a house but I am not interested in that for me. I think that you need to live in a country for at least two years. That’s how you get to know the culture. It removes the fear of the unknown when you do that. 

JL32 Increases empathy and negates racism right? 

DC Exactly, music is also a multinational language and one that has many dialects but it brings people together.  I like to associate the sounds I hear with colours. Harmony is just colour. I am looking at the painting behind you as we speak and I am immediately thinking of the French impressionist composers. 

JL32  The painting is impressionistic and is of forest and sky.  I love forests, the older the better.

DC Then you should visit the Amazon. When I was living in Brazil I spent some nights in the Amazon rainforest and in fact the title of my first album ‘Suite Tres Rios’ is inspired by the meeting of two great rivers in the Amazon. These rivers meet but keep their different colours. It’s a fairly unique phenomenon and it is a bit like my parents who each kept their unique cultures intact. That was my experience as I grew up. It was like two rivers meeting and when we moved to France or England new colours were introduced. Each keeps its essence but interacts. So the tunes on that album were inspired by the Amazon. For instance, one track is about the stars above the rainforest, the clearest stars I’ve ever seen.  

And my album Skyness was inspired by the blue of Greek Island skies. The skies above the Greek Islands are different to other places.  (We digress here into a long discussion on sky colours and rivers, so I recommend Cape Reinga where ocean and sea meet, as do the different colours touch each other)  

JL32  Tell me about the Brazillian singer-songwriter Ivan Lins. I love his voice and I first encountered him on a recording with trumpeter Paulo Fresu and the Sardinian Jazz Orchestra.

DC  I wrote to him asking him if he was interested in recording with me and I was pleased when he replied enthusiastically. He has written many great songs but we settled on ‘Love Dance’ which is one of the most recorded songs in musical history (everyone from Joe Pass, Quincey Jones, Sarah Vaughan and even Sting has recorded it). It is a love song and harmonically it has many interesting twists. He also has a house in Portugal so we recorded there and it was a nice experience as we recorded it in one or two takes. The studio was booked for two hours but most of the time was spent talking. He is a person who likes to be near different oceans or rivers. We had that in common, and we also connected because we like delving into musical styles. 

JL32  And you collaborated with Randy Becker (check out the teaser on YouTube). I love that, he is another musician who has an affinity with South American music. Brazilian music is sometimes referred to as the ‘other swing’. 

DC  Yes, 1917 was the date of the first Jazz recording and also the first Samba recording. So with Randy Brecker, the tune was already recorded on my album ‘Skyness’ inspired by the feeling of closeness to Mediterranean skies and by the notion of international togetherness. I had originally recorded the tune solo, so I wanted to re-release it with Randy and he loved it. 

JL32  What a great tune ‘Iremia’ is and how beautifully you both improvise around the melody lines. 

DC  So he came in on top and it was a special moment for me as he has played with some of the greatest stars in musical history. And many of the people who I recorded my first album with were also on his Grammy-winning album Randy In Brazil. The tune you mention is not Latin but the meaning of the name Iremia is peace in Greek. By coincidence, it was re-released at the moment the war started in Ukraine. It got quite a bit of attention, especially in Italy and it was featured on Sky News. This message of peace should be there at all times, but in times of war, more so. When I wrote it I was living on Paros in the Cyclades Islands, so it is about tranquillity and peace.

JL32  I must ask here. Do you have a working trio or involve different musicians in each project? Or to come at it slightly differently, is there a configuration that you prefer working with, solo, trio, quartet, or larger unit?

DC That is an excellent question. I am comfortable in all formats, in fact, the first concert will be in Hamilton with a big band.  I have worked with orchestras but not with my music, but on every album, there is a different type of lineup. I enjoy that.

JL32 I love the tune ‘Skyness’, it is the sheer beauty and architecture of it. Those voicings, the time feel like your left hand is gently pushing at your right hand, conversationally, and by the time Seamus Blake comes in we are mesmerised.  

DC  My third album ‘Live In California’ was a solo album, my next album will be a trio with special guests. One month ago I recorded in New York with John Patitucci and I enjoyed that. But to answer your question, no particular format and I like to give a voice to everyone. 

JL32  I saw Patitucci in a Roman amphitheatre, Verona, with Wayne Shorter, Danilo Perez and Brian Blade. Not an experience that I will forget. What’s the album called?

DC ‘Beams’ as in light, with John Patitucci and Paulinho Vicente as the core trio. The guests are Mike Stern, Hermeto Pascoal, Dave Douglas and singer Anne Boccato. Oh, and the saxophonist Tecō Cardosa, who is the only musician to appear on multiple of my albums. But I would record again with any of the above. I like the Brazilian percussionist Teco Cardosa very much. He is a multi-instrumentalist and plays flute, saxophone and percussion. There is really something special about him. He features in the piece ‘Compelling’ on the second album.

JL32  Yes an amazing and energetic track. People who don’t know this album or that piece need to check it out ASAP (on streaming platforms. Sadly, the physical album is hard to find but I located one). 

DC I created a video for World Earth Day which is on my website. That was recorded with Teco on the flute. It is one of my favourite pieces as I really like the fusion of the flute and piano. What do you think about that combination? 

JL32  Flute and piano and flute over a modal groove interests me greatly. Although it was always a significant presence in Brazilian Jazz, in American Jazz over the second half of the twentieth century the flute was often regarded as an instrument lacking sufficient expression. People who said that were clearly not paying attention and had not listened closely to Yusef Lateef, or Bennie Maupin. It is now regarded as an essential primary instrument as a renewed interest in Spiritual Jazz is evident. Yes, I love the combination.  

DC  I have several passions and interests beyond music. Things I have studied at University. I have worked as a language educator, I also studied philosophy for a time and history, both of which are interests of yours, I think. I’ve also worked a lot on environmental issues and especially animal rights. I am a vegetarian. Environmental aesthetics is extremely important and often overlooked. The environment and not only in the ecological sense but in everything that we do. And all of this is linked to my music. They are not separate worlds. 

The new album is called Beams because it is a celebration of light in different forms, the light that shines too and from you. The album refers to physical light for example, the tune ‘Star Dial’ which I recorded with Dave Liebman. Then there is also the more metaphysical light. The light which shines from Animals. I wrote a tune called  ‘Paw Prints’ when I was living on Pados, written for a dog that I saw mistreated (a homophone and play on the Shorter standard Foot Prints). And then a tune with Mike Stern called ‘Sparks in Motion’ which is about celebrating the city, the light of a city. 

JL32  When you release an album, do you have a preferred label?  

DC Self-release gives me my independence. Berkeley these days teaches musicians to do it for themselves and learn about the business that way, rather than waiting for a manager or a label to snap you up. Ethics and proper respect for music should be the impetus. Commodification makes an art form into something else. 

JL32  Well, we’ve been talking for hours and I know it’s late there. Thank you for your insights and for your music. I have enjoyed it and I hope that your tour goes well. I am sure that anyone listening to your music live will be as delighted with it as I am.

DC  I hope to see you at the concerts, John.

JL32  Ki kite

JazzLocal32.com is rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association, poet & writer. Some of these posts appear on other sites with the author’s permission

Frank Gibson – ‘Hardbopmobile’

Frank Gibson Jnr

Frank Gibson Jnr is New Zealand’s best known drummer as he has been playing and teaching for most of his life. He has accompanied numerous artists such as Milt Jackson, Emily Remler, Sonny Stitt, Joe Henderson, Randy Brecker, Slide Hampton, Mike Nock and the list goes on. He has also occupied the drum chair for many of Alan Broadbent’s recordings. Whether laying down sensitive brush work or powering an orchestra, Frank has long been a presence on the scene. He is a seasoned leader and it was in this role that he returned to the CJC with his ‘Hardbopmobile’ band. As leader he was able guide the proceedings without being overly dominant. He trusted his band to do the business and they responded in kind.

The ‘Hardbopmobile’ lineup is: Frank Gibson Jnr (leader, drums), Neil Watson (guitar), Ben Turua (double bass), Cameron Allen (tenor saxophone).

Neil and Frank have been playing together for some time and the ease with which they communicate on the band stand is translated into good musical outcomes. I noticed straight away that Neil was not playing his usual solid-body Fender, but he was stroking chords and runs out of a modern version of the D’Angelo 1947 arch-top. Man it looked beautiful, just lying on the piano during set-up.

The set list was mostly out of the Hardbop songbook but a few earlier placed numbers were tackled as well (‘Boplicity’ – Miles Davis). A spirited Wes Montgomery tune was played early on and Neil negotiated the changes and the octave chords in the best possible way. A straight out imitation would have sounded clichéd, but this was a respectful modern take on a classic sound. Like all gifted guitarists, he is able to negotiate complex tunes with apparent ease; dancing and leaning into the music as he delivers a storm of fresh ideas. This is wonderful to listen to, great to watch and but the very devil to photograph.

Two monk tunes were played: ‘Ask Me Now’ and ‘I Mean You’. This is where the tenor player Cameron Allen took the lead. In the former tune he took an angular approach, unravelling it as improvisers do and then diving deep inside the melody. I should probably have been aware of this tenor player before now, because he is very good. We appear to have a tradition of producing good saxophone players in New Zealand – getting wider recognition for them and finding them enough gigs is the real problem.

A couple of hard bop classics were played; Joe Henderson’s ‘Isotope’ and Horace Silvers ‘Senior Blues’. The band interpreted these tunes in their own way and to hear a ‘Hendrix’ like riff being mixed into ‘Senior Blues’ was as surprising as it was effective. I would also like to mention the bass player Ben Turua here. He took a few solos and above all he swung hard.

D'Angelo Archtop