Surprise gig of the year; Neil Cowley Trio, Old Fruitmarket, 29/6/12
I’m not a reviewer, so I have to pay for my own tickets, which is why I tend to go to see things I want to see, and why my reviews are usually so sycophantically positive. Occasionally, though, I splash out on something I know absolutely bugger all about, and am usually pleasantly surprised; last year, it was wee gems like Gretchen Parlato and, especially, Ane Brun. This year, it’s this mob.
Neil Cowley Trio’s album “The Face of Mount Molehill” is a bit of an oddity – a couple of jazz aficionado pals of mine aren’t too sure about it, calling it “prog rock jazz”. Well, stuff them; when I downloaded it a few weeks back in preparation for this gig, I loved those infectious banging chords and thumping rhythms. I can’t talk about this music with any sort of authority or from a position of knowledge or appreciation of jazz in general – but I know what I like.
And live, they are even better. Cowley is a magnificent pianist; there are numbers delicate enough for a conservatoire – the meandering perorations of “Skies are Rare”, for instance, are wistful and lovely, and “Slims” is just the simplest and yet most elegant of jazz melodies – but he can also bang all the percussive potential out of his instrument if he has to; their second album is called “Loud…Louder… Stop!”, which just about sums them up. As with all excellent pianists, his hands on the keyboard are a thing of beauty.
And what a tight, tight band this is. Rex Horan (a man who possesses the finest head of hair in the music business, and I mean everything above the neck) on double bass and Evan Jenkins on drums are brilliant, and they obviously like working with Cowley so much, they are all almost telepathic in some of their seemingly random, thrashed entries, banging out staccato chords that seem to take them all by surprise and yet are all perfectly timed.
Listen, this was great. Tracks like “Fable” and “Rooster was a Witness” are as exciting as bungee jumping (not that I’ve ever bungee jumped) and the encore number, “She Eats Flies” is just damned well epic. Apparently, it’s about a spider that lives at the bottom of his garden that, he says, is as big as a cat; judging by the noise they make about it, I believe him, and there is no fucking way on earth I’m going anywhere near his garden.
Cowley’s also very personable (“You can dance to this if you have a limp”) and down to earth; he likes the Glasgow Festival because it’s the least jazzy jazz festival he knows, which he reckons is a good thing. I’ll go along with that; I’m still not sure if I like “jazz”, but I sure as hell like this. Great stuff.