On a lazy afternoon, sat in the park sun beating down, I flick through the Phoenix’s gig guide for the coming months, I stumbled across a genius on the piano: Neil Cowley has done session work with Zero 7 and Gabrielle, and was a child prodigy, playing Shostakovich at the Queen Elizabeth Hall when he was just 10. However, he is now touring with his own band, The Neil Cowley Trio . A fusion of Jazz and Classical piano, with trance like ambient grooves and rhythms backed by a funky double-bassist.
Upon entry there was a crowd waiting for the performance on downstairs – I wasn’t interested: We headed upstairs to find that the band was already playing, so we took our place at the back of the room, and immediately become enthralled in the music. I was hit with a wall of energy as the three performers jazzed their way through the grooves written by the lead man. Intricate melodies reminiscent of artists such as Keith Jarrett; the great Duke Ellington; and the eccentric funk of Parliament really show a diversity and originality to their music. The evening progressed at a slow pace as the music coursed through me, not sure if it was me, or I was it. However as the interval, I realised the past 40 minutes had gone by like a bumble bee, buzzing haplessly along. The second half brought the same vigour and creativity. The band was connected in a way I have not often seen, and they were clearly enjoying themselves.
On listening to their debut album, Displaced, I was taken away with the same feeling as when they were playing, the tumultuous rise and fall of dynamics, the swaying rhythms and sweet, but often discordant melodies reminding me somewhat of a children’s fairy tale (indeed many of their tunes have very candid and naïve themes – ‘She eats flies’ was written about the spider living at the bottom of their garden). Even listening to the recorded sounds I can feel the same passion and innovation that was effervescing throughout the Voodoo Lounge as they played live: possibly due to the fact that they rehearsed for a week before recorded (maybe this could be a good lesson to others).
Unlike most modern jazz, The Neil Cowley Trio are producing something new and original, most of all, something very exciting. They are not just a clone of the cool Jazz of the sixties that so many artists are nowadays, nor are they a guitar band, seemingly the last stand of advance in jazz (the true concept of jazz). Neil Cowley has certainly managed to push through the stagnation of the old style of music, hopefully bringing it to the dirge of popularity once again.
We shall see.