Starting out in 2019 as a songwriting project in a St Vincent Street flat, Liam Shortall’s corto.alto has grown into one of the most dropped names on the revitalised Glasgow jazz scene, working with almost every musician of any note to pass through the city. Given Shortall’s towering reputation it’s almost a little surprising that this is his debut album – the excellent EP Not For Now from 2021 being the only other ‘proper’ release.
Often described as a trombonist – which is true, but that doesn’t describe the whole picture – Shortall acts more like an arranger, conductor, and facilitator. Early videos promoting ‘Bye’, which appropriately closes the album, showed his process of cutting drum licks from Graham Costello into reversed keyboard sounds and woozy loops.
There’s as much a kinship with DJ Shadow as there is with Trombone Shorty; while it’s undeniably ‘jazz’, it’s jazz informed by someone who is more comfortable at a warehouse rave than a concert hall. He stays away from the folky inflections that are common in Scottish music – the tuba-driven ‘Slope’ bears some of the DNA of Sons of Kemet and Theon Cross.
‘Latency’ shimmers with an impressive drum and bass beat from Costello and the always joyous experience of not knowing what instruments are making which noises – is that James Copus’ trumpet tweaked to sound like a 70s synth line? The excellent ‘Mechanisms’ veers between a smooth slinkiness and wild, overdriven, Zeppelin-esque guitar and strings, an epic listener wrongfooting that packs the adrenaline rushes of the early Mogwai albums.
There is,of course, an excellent array of musicians on here: Costello, Copus-feted pianist Fergus Macreadie, trombonist Anoushka Nanguy – they’re a skilled and responsive group of players who are sure to do some very impressive sets on the upcoming UK tour. It’s definitely Shortall’s show, though; there’s a cohesive vision to the album. Despite opening with ‘Hello’ and ending with ‘Bye’, it could easily loop right back to the start.
Shortall has hinted fairly emphatically that this might be the full stop on the corto.alto project. If that’s true, then this is quite a way to drop the mic.
Bad With Names is out October 6th on New Soil/Bridge The Gap.