REVIEW: Neil Cowley Trio @ Ronnie Scott’s

Long time readers of Jus Like Music may remember when we reviewed the album Loud… Louder… Stop! by the Neil Cowley Trio, which came out in 2008 to much critical acclaim. It was a powerful, energetic and deeply emotional contemporary jazz trio record, with Neil Cowley on piano, Richard Sadler on double bass and Evan Jenkins on drums. Well, recently a new album dropped by the Neil Cowley Trio, named Radio Silence, and I got the opportunity to see the guys perform live last week at the globally renowned Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho, London.

This was a first for Ronnie Scott’s too. The first time they’d chosen to have a performance in the ’round’. I’d only been there once previously – for the press launch for Bonobo’s new album – and ordinarily the band would be situated at the back of the room. However, and as you can probably work out, the band were moved into the middle of the room and spectators surrounded them on all sides! I think that was a good move, to be honest. Particularly for an outfit like the Neil Cowley Trio, who simply ooze energy and passion. So, to have them in the centre of the room acted as a more effective platform for their performance and allowed them to fully engage with the audience.

Given that the energy and passion in their music is already very much apparent in their studio recordings, I wondered what I might learn from the live event. Of course I expected to experience all the same wonderful things that I had from the recordings, but I was genuinely intrigued to see what else I would be offered on the night. A couple of things jumped out almost immediately; Neil Cowley is one funny guy, very much at ease with himself and able to make fun of himself, but also what was instantly noticeable was the chemistry between the three guys. There was a lot of musical sparring going on, particularly between Neil on piano and Evan on drums. Something probably more typical in jazz than any other genre, but there was the regular teasing by playing a few notes, then waiting for a few drum hits to come back in response – met with a cheeky smile between the two players here and there. Almost like a musical version of the game ‘chicken’.

Between tracks, of which they played about 70% new material and 30% old, Neil took the time to talk with the surrounding audience, briefly recounting the stories behind tracks and/or their names. But once the playing again commenced, it was like all three had entered another zone, quickly becoming very deep into the music. One thing I’ve always loved about their music is the peaks and troughs, the steady pace to the frenzied build up, and that transferred to live surroundings perfectly. To suggest that Neil becomes engrossed in his playing would be an understatement. At the furious highs of certain tracks I wondered what would breakdown first, Neil or his Piano! I mean that in an extremely positive manner, of course. But, if you play the piano like Neil Cowley, then you probably don’t need a gym membership.

A couple of hours and an encore later, things had come to a close. What a night. Live music is a funny thing – when people aren’t particularly impressive, it’s easy to make that judgement more or less instantly, but when people are ridiculously amazing, it’s harder to comprehend because it’s almost so good that you can forget it’s a live performance and not just a recording you are hearing! Naturally the stark reminder, that it was indeed a live performance, was that the band were playing literally ten feet in front of me, but I did have to pinch myself a few times!

The Neil Cowley Trio continue to expand on the sub-genre of contemporary piano-trio jazz, with their high energy performances and beautifully crafted songs. To see them perform live was a real privilege and something I would urge everyone to try and do if the guys ever come to your town or city. The new album, Radio Silence, is a brilliant collection of nine songs spanning just shy of an hour, and it’s out right now through Naim Jazz, so give it a listen.

mp3: Neil Cowley Trio – Gerald