Neil Cowley Trio’s latest offering: The Face of Mount Molehill is one of best jazz albums I’ve heard this year. It’s groove laden and briming with great orchestral choruses and hooks alongside which Cowley stabs out his trademark piano with incredible relish and precison. The interplay between Cowley, Rex Horan’s bass and Evan Jenkins percussion are jaw droppingly clever and they bring along a few extra magical ingredients that really make this album shine. The album title Molehill reference is very appropriate as the results far outweigh the simplicity of the ingredients.
Rooster Was a Witness nailed it for me, just watch the video of them performing this track in Nelsons Brewery at Chatham dockyard and you can see the chemistry at work. The bass and drum backbeat on this and other tracks draw you in…they have an almost cinematic soundtrack quality that is slightly reminiscent of Lalo Schifrin. When the string section come in it’s the musical equivalent of grape bursting in your mouth…
The album is built on Cowley’s intuition for rythmn and an insane talent for weaving in-between groove patterns. The temptation to to go prog is resisted giving the album a possibly wider appeal than his previous work. Cowley still manages to spin out on the ivory but he doesn’t stray too far from the central theme which keeps a nice balance…but you have to admire his dexterity at those keys.
The album has some surprising moments of lush orchestration which transcend above the trio giving it an emotional brightness. Leo Abrahams also makes an appearance and brings some beautiful guitar effects into Cowley’s ever growing recipe book. He manages to throw in some quirky effects as well, especially on Mini Ha Ha which builds around a looping baby laugh…the inclusion of the effect seems at odds with the rest of the album initially but the mood gradually changes with the orchestral strings. It provides emotion to the track which intensifies with Cowley’s reflective piano playing and Rex Horan’s gorgeous bass playing in the final section.
Overall this is a wonderful album that will bring the Neil Cowley Trio new admirers…it has a magnetic quality that is very difficult to resist. It’s also incredibly playable and a joy to explore.
On tour in 2012 with the Mount Molehill Strings
15th March, LONDON, Queen Elizabeth Hall
21st March CARDIFF, RWCMD
22nd March LIVERPOOL, Capstone Theatre
23rd March GATESHEAD, The Sage Gateshead
24th March LEEDS, The Venue
13th April BIRMINGHAM, CBSO
14th April SOUTHAMPTON, Turner Sims
26th April BRISTOL, St Georges
photo credit: Tom Barnes