Starting out as a self-imposed challenge to release new music every three weeks for a year, producer Liam Shortall has taken corto.alto – the multi-limbed mutant jazz collective that has collaborated with some of the most exciting musicians in Scotland – through a summer of massive festival sets and their biggest solo headline yet at SWG3 (9th October). He took a quick breather from setting up the gig to let us know what to expect.
You’re about to play a massive headline at SWG3 – how did you get here from some casual jams in the flat?
It started as the Live from 435 thing. I was staying in a flat in Sauchiehall Street and some guys from Mungo’s Hi Fi lived there. My bedroom was right above Box, and obviously they have Metal or Indie nights all the time, so I felt like it was a good opportunity to record some of my music.
I recorded about four tunes in my room and then I released it as corto.alto. The name was just a joke, it came from my name – Shortall – ‘short, tall’ in Spanish is ‘corto alto’ – my dad’s Spanish. It was just a Facebook page to begin with, but then we made four videos and released them every three weeks. After the first 12 weeks, I thought; ‘Oh, we’ll do another four’. Then eventually every third Friday for a year, we’d released 20-something tunes. It’s all my music but a lot involves getting different guests and loads of people from around Glasgow.
I wanted it to be like a platform where people could go; ‘Oh, I like that singer. Like what’s who, what’s that name?’ And people could hear Kitti’s music and you know, Tom (McGuire) and stuff. It was just a cool thing to have. For people to look in and say, ‘Oh, these guys are doing something.’ I’m trying to keep the live show like that as well, by bringing up guests.
Your shows are always a bit of a party. There’s always lots of dancing, there’s always lots of craziness.
When I was writing the live parts for the band, I wanted it never to feel like a chin strokey cocktail jazz show. People see the word jazz and they kind of think; ‘that’s for posh people, that’s for old people’, and I feel like that just doesn’t represent Glasgow or my music or the people in the band. We played at Ronnie Scott’s and that was really cool; but that’s very much people sitting down having their dinner and there’s a bit of a weird disconnect. When we play in Glasgow it feels more like a punk or a drum and bass DJ set.
I want it to feel inclusive and I don’t want people to be alienated by the music because they don’t understand it. I feel like jazz has got a lot of that, people trying to impress other musicians or to be intellectual about music. Your job is to make people have a good time; coming to a gig shouldn’t be an intellectual exercise.
Do you choose the venues you play with that in mind?
So obviously SWG3 is quite a venue, there’s a lot of guitar bands and DJs and stuff like that. We play in the Rum Shack a lot, which is quite a close venue, you’re almost playing in the crowd. The stage is only like this much off the ground so it feels very intimate. We prefer playing in venues where you’re not far away from the crowd, and definitely not seated venues.
How much do you compose and how much is improvised?
Everything’s my music. There’s a fair bit that’s improvised, but it’s not just free jazz, it’s quite structured. There are definitely sections where there’s improvisation, but I’m trying to move away from having one minute of melody, then nine minutes of solo, then one minute of melody. But it just depends, and it changes from gig to gig as well. Sometimes if we’re playing a jazz festival we’ll lean more into that. But in this gig, there’s a lot of samples, electronics and synths. We’re trying to do more of a hip-hop show ethos rather than a jazz show ethos.
How’s rehearsals going?
It sounded good, man. There’s a lot of moving parts. Cause there’s two cameramen, two videographers, two lighting engineers, a sound engineer, and a string section. My brain’s exploding, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s gonna be so much fun.
Listen to corto.alto here.