The Jazz Mann | Neil Cowley Trio - Radio Silence | Review | The Jazz Mann

Accessibility Menu

REVIEW

Neil Cowley Trio - Radio Silence Rating: 4 out of 5 An important step in the development of the trio. It's a more nuanced record with greater emotional depth than either of its predecessors and heralds a greater maturity in Cowley's writing style.

On 19th April 2010 the Neil Cowley Trio will release their third album “Radio Silence” on the Naim Jazz label. The trio first burst onto the scene in 2006 with “Displaced” which appeared on Cowley’s own Hideinside label. The record was a considerable critical and, in jazz terms, commercial success. Cowley’s blend of unabashed energy and catchy hooks and grooves appealed to a broader public than the usual jazz audience and the trio achieved a degree of crossover success reminiscent of one of their influences E.S.T. An important factor in the trio’s success was the dynamic quality of their stage shows, Cowley being a particularly charismatic performer and a witty and acerbic announcer of tunes. I recall a particularly barnstorming set at the 2007 Cheltenham Jazz Festival when the group were really “going for it”.

2008’s follow up “Loud, Louder,Stop” appeared on the Candid offshoot Cake and consolidated the trio’s success. Essentially it was more of the same but the trio’s sheer ebullience largely spared them from any kind of critical backlash. The track “His Nibs” was used in a Guinness commercial and is now referred to by Cowley as the band’s “big hit”.

“Radio Silence” finds pianist Cowley again joined by bassist Richard Sadler and New Zealand born drummer Evan Jenkins. It’s a more mature record than it’s predecessors and sees Cowley broadening the scope of his writing. The fourteen and a half minute “Portal” which closes the album is testament to Cowley’s increasing ambitions for the trio. However for fans who enjoyed the first two releases there are still some familiar reference points and the trio is still buzzing with energy.

A classically trained child prodigy Cowley was performing Shostakovich in public at age ten before musically “dropping out” and opting for a life in pop and soul bands among them The Pasadenas, Brand New Heavies and Zero 7. This sharpened Cowley’s pop sensibilities and he was to use these qualities to good effect in his compositional output for the trio. He has also worked with the hugely successful singer Adele (alongside Polar Bear drummer Seb Rochford) and played the keyboard parts on the soundtrack of the recent Ian Dury biopic “Sex & Drugs & Rock and Roll”.

“Radio Silence” begins with the doomy chords of “Monoface” before erupting into joyous life via Cowley’s leaping piano and Jenkins’ clattering drums. Jenkins also has a background in other types of music having at one time drummed for guitarist Matt Schofield’s outstanding blues outfit. “Monoface” isn’t all sound and fury. At first it might sound like an attempt to mirror “His Nibs”, the attention grabbing opener on the previous album but there are more reflective moments too as Cowley expertly builds and releases the tension.

“Radio Silence” itself begins with static before unfolding into one of Cowley’s most beautiful melodies, simple but full of nuance. The mood is broken by a more assertive central section before the contemplative mood returns. In all this is one of the most lyrical tracks that the trio has recorded and it is perhaps significant that Cowley has chosen it as the title track, a clear statement that he wishes the trio to develop and move on.

“Vice Skating” too has it’s lyrical moments but there are also more vigorous passages full of Cowley’s trademark chord progressions. The music has a visual quality to it, a sense of gliding serenely over ice then of losing control on the slippery surface conveys itself via the music.

“A French Lesson” is the only composition not credited solely to Cowley. With all three members of the trio named as composers I’d guess that this was born out a group improvisation. Certainly the   probing nature of the music suggests it, Jenkins opening at the drums with Cowley and Sadler subsequently joining in to create something “in the moment”. Unlike much of the trio’s music this piece is not song based and represents the freest playing they’ve ever committed to record. This is closer to, say Bobo Stenson than E.S.T. and suggests a whole new area for the trio to explore.

After the shock of the new “Gerald” marks a return to the virtues of the trio’s first two albums. Dedicated to an amateur guitarist friend who likes to “wig out” at the weekend this has all the energy and manic sense of humour that one associates with Cowley’s live performances. Beginning with rock drums and a shout of “one, two, three, four” this is the most dynamic and conspicuously rock track on the album. Great fun and almost certainly destined to be a live favourite.

By way of contrast “Desert To Rabat” is Cowley at his most romantic with it’s lyrical passages and swelling climaxes interspersed with knottier jazz improvising. This is again music with a real pictorial quality and another example of Cowley’s growing maturity as a composer.

“Stereoface” features the trio at their most E.S.T.-ish, a comparison frequently made in their early days but by and large less appropriate now. Nevertheless this attractive item featuring Cowley’s melodic improvising over Sadler and Jenkins’ subtle but insistent grooves owes something of a debt to the Swedish pioneers.

“Hug The Greyhound” however is pure Cowley, a romp along stomp that echoes British Music Hall as much as jazz. It might be knockabout fun but it takes enormous skill to play with this kind of precision. Behind the humorous façade there’s a keen musical intelligence at work.

That intelligence is best exhibited in the shifting magnum opus “Portal” that builds from minimalist solo piano through powerful, percussive passages and back again, always ebbing and flowing. As an exercise in contrasting dynamics it’s thoroughly convincing with the trio sometimes deploying a wide-screen magnificence that is impressive in it’s scope. There’s also a secret track, a reprise of the earlier “Radio Silence”, the last sound heard being that of static.

“Radio Silence” is an important step in the development of the trio. It’s a more nuanced record with greater emotional depth than either of it’s predecessors and heralds a greater maturity in Cowley’s writing style. The leader’s playing, informed by classical technique and a keen pop sensibility, is as dazzling as ever and he receives excellent support from his two dependable colleagues. Both Sadler and Jenkins are relatively unsung but the importance of their contributions to the group sound should not be overlooked.  A clear development “Radio Silence” is probably the group’s best work yet but they will need to continue to progress if they are not to fall from critical favour. A higher degree of improvisational content as suggested by “A French Lesson” may represent the next step forward.

Meanwhile the trio will be hitting the road in May for a string of dates up and down the country. Full listings can be found in our news pages.

Radio Silence

Neil Cowley Trio

Friday, April 16, 2010

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Radio Silence

An important step in the development of the trio. It's a more nuanced record with greater emotional depth than either of its predecessors and heralds a greater maturity in Cowley's writing style.

On 19th April 2010 the Neil Cowley Trio will release their third album “Radio Silence” on the Naim Jazz label. The trio first burst onto the scene in 2006 with “Displaced” which appeared on Cowley’s own Hideinside label. The record was a considerable critical and, in jazz terms, commercial success. Cowley’s blend of unabashed energy and catchy hooks and grooves appealed to a broader public than the usual jazz audience and the trio achieved a degree of crossover success reminiscent of one of their influences E.S.T. An important factor in the trio’s success was the dynamic quality of their stage shows, Cowley being a particularly charismatic performer and a witty and acerbic announcer of tunes. I recall a particularly barnstorming set at the 2007 Cheltenham Jazz Festival when the group were really “going for it”.

2008’s follow up “Loud, Louder,Stop” appeared on the Candid offshoot Cake and consolidated the trio’s success. Essentially it was more of the same but the trio’s sheer ebullience largely spared them from any kind of critical backlash. The track “His Nibs” was used in a Guinness commercial and is now referred to by Cowley as the band’s “big hit”.

“Radio Silence” finds pianist Cowley again joined by bassist Richard Sadler and New Zealand born drummer Evan Jenkins. It’s a more mature record than it’s predecessors and sees Cowley broadening the scope of his writing. The fourteen and a half minute “Portal” which closes the album is testament to Cowley’s increasing ambitions for the trio. However for fans who enjoyed the first two releases there are still some familiar reference points and the trio is still buzzing with energy.

A classically trained child prodigy Cowley was performing Shostakovich in public at age ten before musically “dropping out” and opting for a life in pop and soul bands among them The Pasadenas, Brand New Heavies and Zero 7. This sharpened Cowley’s pop sensibilities and he was to use these qualities to good effect in his compositional output for the trio. He has also worked with the hugely successful singer Adele (alongside Polar Bear drummer Seb Rochford) and played the keyboard parts on the soundtrack of the recent Ian Dury biopic “Sex & Drugs & Rock and Roll”.

“Radio Silence” begins with the doomy chords of “Monoface” before erupting into joyous life via Cowley’s leaping piano and Jenkins’ clattering drums. Jenkins also has a background in other types of music having at one time drummed for guitarist Matt Schofield’s outstanding blues outfit. “Monoface” isn’t all sound and fury. At first it might sound like an attempt to mirror “His Nibs”, the attention grabbing opener on the previous album but there are more reflective moments too as Cowley expertly builds and releases the tension.

“Radio Silence” itself begins with static before unfolding into one of Cowley’s most beautiful melodies, simple but full of nuance. The mood is broken by a more assertive central section before the contemplative mood returns. In all this is one of the most lyrical tracks that the trio has recorded and it is perhaps significant that Cowley has chosen it as the title track, a clear statement that he wishes the trio to develop and move on.

“Vice Skating” too has it’s lyrical moments but there are also more vigorous passages full of Cowley’s trademark chord progressions. The music has a visual quality to it, a sense of gliding serenely over ice then of losing control on the slippery surface conveys itself via the music.

“A French Lesson” is the only composition not credited solely to Cowley. With all three members of the trio named as composers I’d guess that this was born out a group improvisation. Certainly the   probing nature of the music suggests it, Jenkins opening at the drums with Cowley and Sadler subsequently joining in to create something “in the moment”. Unlike much of the trio’s music this piece is not song based and represents the freest playing they’ve ever committed to record. This is closer to, say Bobo Stenson than E.S.T. and suggests a whole new area for the trio to explore.

After the shock of the new “Gerald” marks a return to the virtues of the trio’s first two albums. Dedicated to an amateur guitarist friend who likes to “wig out” at the weekend this has all the energy and manic sense of humour that one associates with Cowley’s live performances. Beginning with rock drums and a shout of “one, two, three, four” this is the most dynamic and conspicuously rock track on the album. Great fun and almost certainly destined to be a live favourite.

By way of contrast “Desert To Rabat” is Cowley at his most romantic with it’s lyrical passages and swelling climaxes interspersed with knottier jazz improvising. This is again music with a real pictorial quality and another example of Cowley’s growing maturity as a composer.

“Stereoface” features the trio at their most E.S.T.-ish, a comparison frequently made in their early days but by and large less appropriate now. Nevertheless this attractive item featuring Cowley’s melodic improvising over Sadler and Jenkins’ subtle but insistent grooves owes something of a debt to the Swedish pioneers.

“Hug The Greyhound” however is pure Cowley, a romp along stomp that echoes British Music Hall as much as jazz. It might be knockabout fun but it takes enormous skill to play with this kind of precision. Behind the humorous façade there’s a keen musical intelligence at work.

That intelligence is best exhibited in the shifting magnum opus “Portal” that builds from minimalist solo piano through powerful, percussive passages and back again, always ebbing and flowing. As an exercise in contrasting dynamics it’s thoroughly convincing with the trio sometimes deploying a wide-screen magnificence that is impressive in it’s scope. There’s also a secret track, a reprise of the earlier “Radio Silence”, the last sound heard being that of static.

“Radio Silence” is an important step in the development of the trio. It’s a more nuanced record with greater emotional depth than either of it’s predecessors and heralds a greater maturity in Cowley’s writing style. The leader’s playing, informed by classical technique and a keen pop sensibility, is as dazzling as ever and he receives excellent support from his two dependable colleagues. Both Sadler and Jenkins are relatively unsung but the importance of their contributions to the group sound should not be overlooked.  A clear development “Radio Silence” is probably the group’s best work yet but they will need to continue to progress if they are not to fall from critical favour. A higher degree of improvisational content as suggested by “A French Lesson” may represent the next step forward.

Meanwhile the trio will be hitting the road in May for a string of dates up and down the country. Full listings can be found in our news pages.


blog comments powered by Disqus

JAZZ MANN FEATURES

‘Jazz Alley + Boogie Party’,Sunday @ Wall2Wall Jazz Festival,Market Hall,Abergavenny, 03/09/2017

‘Jazz Alley + Boogie Party’,Sunday @ Wall2Wall Jazz Festival,Market Hall,Abergavenny, 03/09/2017

Ian Mann on the final, family friendly day of the Festival with performances by Samba Galez, Budapest Ragtime Band, Chris Moreton, Kitty & The Purramours and the Red Stripe Band.


Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 02/09/2017.

Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 02/09/2017.

Ian Mann enjoys a day of wall to music including performances by three of the great entertainers of British jazz, vocalist Ian Shaw, saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and electric bass specialist Shez Raja.


JAZZ MANN RECOMMENDS