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Neil Cowley Trio: Radio Silence

Bruce Lindsay By

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Since it formed in 2005 the Neil Cowley Trio has developed its distinctive sound across two well-received albums. Displaced (Hide Inside Records, 2006) won the 2007 BBC Jazz Award for Best Album, while the follow-up, Loud, Louder, Stop (Cake, 2008), gained additional plaudits. Radio Silence is album number three and it finds the Trio at the peak of its power, staking a real claim to being one of the most impressive piano trios in contemporary jazz.

The band's line-up is unchanged since its formation—in fact, pianist Cowley and bassist Richard Sadler were housemates around 1998 and got to know drummer Evan Jenkins soon after that. The three musicians have a keen, almost intuitive, understanding of each other's styles and while Cowley is the band's composer, input from Sadler and Jenkins is vital in defining the ultimate sound of each tune. Crucially, the Trio is also well aware of the audience; while the musicians' enthusiasm and enjoyment comes over clearly, there is never any sense that the band is playing just for itself.

The Trio moves elegantly between beautiful, moving tunes such as "Radio Silence"—where Sadler's plaintive bass adds much to the tune's impact—and fast, upbeat compositions like "Gerald," which was inspired by a guitarist friend of Cowley's. In between these extremes lie tracks such as "Vice Skating," with its gorgeously rolling piano line, and "Monoface," which features particularly strident playing from Cowley and Jenkins. One of the loveliest tunes is not even acknowledged on the CD packaging. "Box Lily" is a hidden track, starting up a couple of minutes after "Portal" ends, and has moments of great delicacy and beauty as well as some very emphatic, percussive phrases.

In such exceptional company "Desert to Rabat" is mildly disappointing—lacking a strong central theme it tends to lose focus. But not to worry, because it's followed by the album's highlights. "Stereoface"—a reworking of the opening "Monoface"—flows beautifully from Cowley's piano intro, thanks especially to Jenkins' exceptional percussion. "Hug the Greyhound" sounds like a Vince Guaraldi composition with added funk. It's immediate, insistent and persistent—in Cowley's own words, "It's hooky."

Radio Silence demonstrates that creative musicians can still produce new and exciting music within an acoustic trio setting and that such music can be accessible, joyous, beautiful and danceable. The album artwork is terrific, too. It rarely gets better than this.

Track Listing: Monoface; Radio Silence; Vice Skating; A French Lesson; Gerald; Desert to Rabat; Stereoface; Hug the Greyhound; Portal; Box Lily [hidden track].

Personnel: Neil Cowley: piano; Richard Sadler: bass; Evan Jenkins: drums.

Title: Radio Silence | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Naim Label


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