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Review: Neil Cowley Trio

Review: Neil Cowley Trio
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, March 15th. Review by Patrick Hadfield)

The Neil Cowley Trio’s new album The Face of Mount Molehill (Naim)  is Cowley with strings. While jazz and strings are often uncomfortable bedfellows, on this album they work well, with Julian Ferraretto‘s arrangements creating more space for the trio. Guitarist Leo Abraham, who works extensively with effects, adds textural variety.

Not every track works, however. ‘Mini Ha Ha’ – on the album – is overwhelmed by a sample of a child’s laughter. But overall the string arrangements are sympathetic, low in the mix and suitably subtle.

The mix also worked well live. With an eight-strong string section, and with Abraham on guitar, the augmented trio worked through many of the tracks on the new album, as well as stripping back to a threesome for some pounding piano power-trio work-outs. In concert ‘Mini Ha Ha’ revealed itself as a rather beautiful slow, melancholic, meditative tune.

Particularly effective were moments when the full band built the sound and the intensity. It’s become something of a trademark; the title of their second album, after all, was Loud, Louder, Stop. At the top of such crescendos, Evan Jenkins on drums and Rex Horan on bass rock out while Cowley clearly relishes the sheer physicality of pounding the keys of the piano.

There is also room for subtlety, though. The lovely, contemplative ‘Clumsy Couple’ was the first encore, starting gently and ending by firing on all cylinders. And then they got the audience to its feet – not easy at the Queen Elizabeth Hall – for the final encore, ‘She Eats Flies’, a roaring end to a great evening.

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