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Neil Cowley: A Rock and Roll Take on Jazz

By Published: April 26, 2010
The Trio's success is to be welcomed, but is work outside the trio still a necessity? "It is for the other two guys, more than me," says Cowley. "The Trio takes up all my time, just the running of it. But I want it to be like that, and there are a few financial leftovers from my past life that keep me going. Richard does a lot of gigs—he's got a very full diary and he always enjoys playing with other people. Evan's the same, but on the blues and rock end of the spectrum—lots of gigs and the occasional recording session. But I'm so lucky that they both see the Trio as their main focus—long may that continue."

Radio Silence is the band's third album—how does Cowley view its progression to this point? "I see the first album as a shot in the dark, a punt...and I think that we got very lucky in that it just sounds great. The second was a conscious effort to make a distinction between us and other areas of British jazz music. I think it was almost an over-conscious effort to define our sound. Also, I felt that we under-rehearsed it—I think it was three or four months away from where I wanted it, although I think it's a good sounding record and it did great things for us. I don't think the band played through the material enough live. So for Radio Silence there was a conscious effort to play the material live before it was recorded, 'cause we always seem to record tunes then six months down the line we go 'Oh, I wish we could record it now...'

So this album was all about getting as close to that point as possible before we recorded it. I left it as late as I possibly could and I'm much happier with the musical result of this record than I was with the last one. Although the last one had a great sound I can't go back and listen to it so readily. Whereas with Radio Silence I could listen to it a couple of weeks after recording and actually enjoy it. A press person said that it sounds like the most rounded of our albums and I think it illustrates how far the band have come and how comfortable we are in our skin. It affirms that this is the sound we have, the sound we make, and I'm proud of it.

"Where we go next I'm not sure: it does sound like a rather tidy three CD collection of this sort of sound. It's like we've arrived at ourselves, if that doesn't sound too ridiculous."

Radio Silence boasts a striking cover design—a sepia-toned photo of the three musicians staring intently at what seems to be a World War 2 wireless transmitter. The cover is impressive, and marks a slight change in direction for the band, as Cowley explains: "We summoned up enough bravery to get on the cover this time. We've hidden behind nice abstract pictures and forms before but now seemed the time to reveal ourselves." The cover design fits well with the album's title and gives the CD real impact—how much of the concept came from Cowley? "Without wanting to sound too arrogant, most of it" he says, laughing. "We had a meeting with the record company and with our designer, Dan Buckley, who's designed all my CD covers since 2000. I love Dan's work.

"This time, I envisaged us in this bunker, where we'd been for a few weeks—so we're a bit sweaty—and you can't quite tell which year we're in or even which country we're in but there's this feeling that we're an underground movement. But we couldn't find a bunker. However, I had some mates at a Royal Air Force camp, the name of which I'm not allowed to disclose, and so we ended up in a real bunker 60 feet underground. We went out shopping to find things from that '40s or '50s era, cigarette packets and so on, and a radio enthusiast helped us with equipment. Dan and the photographer got the feel of it and I'm really pleased with the result."

Cowley's cover concept is fascinating, but seemingly runs counter to the "Radio Silence" track itself, which is about the end of a relationship and the communication breakdown that accompanies it. Or is this not the case? "Not quite," explains Cowley, "well, nearly. It is about that feeling when someone you've previously been on the same wavelength as [you but] isn't any longer, and you're not communicating." Cowley thinks for a few seconds before revising his opinion: "It is alluding to a breakdown in a relationship—so yes, you're absolutely right. It's in complete contrast to what the cover says. Artistic license, I suppose."

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