You won't have heard of Neil Cowley but you will almost certainly have heard what he does - it's his fingers tinkling the ivories on Adele's record smashing 21. Far from a mere session musician however, his CV includes time with Gabrielle, The Brand New Heavies and Zero 7 before releasing two collaborations with Ben Mynott under the name Fragile State, of which the first, The Facts And The Dreams, remains an understated classic.
Continue reading: Neil Cowley Trio, The Face Of Mount Molehill Album Review
"A band who are fully comfortable in their unique sonic skin." This is the Neil Cowley Trios 3rd album to date. 'Radio Silence' sees them clearly comfortable but, unique? Whilst the minimal, delicate percussion treatments and swirling piano laden tracks are accomplished, they do not indicate a measure of individuality that is striking enough to be labelled unique. The overall impression is pleasant rather than stimulating or challenging. The instrumentation and structure to the each piece has an element of professionalism that renders the music at times lifeless.
The Neil Cowley Trio won the BBC's best Jazz album award for their debut 'Displaced'. This was followed in 2008 by another critically acclaimed disc, 'Loud, Louder, Stop'. Now more than ever at ease with their sound they seem to have lost a certain joie de vivre. 'Radio Silence' is a polished and credible statement of musicianship, a CV of talent, not a 'must have'.
The opener 'Monoface' starts us off with a mixture of Julian Copes 'Sunspots' set against Bowies 'Aladdin Sane' piano, but all in a very proper, jazzily arranged, sort of way. The title track takes us further into the darkened recesses of the jazz drenched twilight. The barely there rhythms and unhinged beats of 'Vice Skating' skip along awkwardly, just managing to retain a coherence. 'A French Lesson', the only track on the album not solely written by Cowley, demands still further concentration as you strain to keep up with where the progression of the track will take you. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, comes a track to up end all that have gone before. 'Gerald' is a mix of Charlie Brown and Tom & Jerry with a Regina Spektor, 'That Time', sense of fun and experimentation. Easily the best track on here.
The remainder of the album sticks firmly to its more jazzy roots. The more sombre notes of 'Stereoface', 40's era 'Hug The Greyhound', and the foreboding, ever building, Sakamoto style of 'Portal' seeing the album out. Taking it seriously enough to satisfy the purists and aficionados, The Neil Cowley Trio, clearly have a singular vision and intent.
Mr Cowley himself describes his music as "For the heart and feet", as if it were some Victorian tonic to cure all ills. In truth it is neither. True, it has its high notes and can at times feel quite intimate, but it also lacks fire and passion.