‘Spacebound Apes’ – Neil Cowley Trio

spacebound

DONNING HIS SPACESUIT, pianist/composer Neil Cowley joins with fellow primates Rex Horan (bass) and Evan Jenkins (drums) in this, their sixth album – and as Spacebound Apes, they head for galaxies anew.

The origin of the species’ music might, especially with their ‘trio’ tag, be perceived as jazz – but Cowley prefers to be more open-minded about his output: “I just like lovely sounds”. So rather than being founded on improvisation, the through-compositional nature of this release is more akin to early-’80s pop, carefully integrated with the atmospheric soundtrack breadth of, say, Tomita or Jean-Michel Jarre. Indeed, the classically-trained musician’s successes have included recordings with Brand New Heavies and Zero 7; whilst, as a session player on Adele’s global chart hits, he adopted the mantle of “2011’s most-listened-to pianist on the planet.”

Linked to a developing online blog and interactive digital experience (as well as a live visual event to be staged at Union Chapel, London, in October 2016), this tale of middle-aged Lincoln taking a hallucinatory journey into the cosmos finds Cowley unabashed in labelling it a ‘concept album’; and he explains that he’s been working towards the project for a long time, its immersive development taking in themes of guilt, loss and longing. But however deeply the trio’s ambitious vision is embraced, its eleven instrumental tracks also stand alone as an increasingly enticing, varied and progressive soundscape.

With Cowley prominent on piano, hyperspatial beauty rubs shoulders with boisterous stomp throughout these 45 minutes – so the electronically-pulsed launchpad preparation of Weightless evolves into the whispy, crescendoed minimalism of Hubris Major before arriving at a jaunty, martial piano strut in Governance, its percussive metre breaking free whilst Cowley’s lyricism contrasts well; and the memorably propulsive synth groove of The City and the Stars offers more than a semblance of OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’.

The album’s delicate piano interludes are especially effective. Grace‘s restrained ‘bridge over Satie’s water’ possessing a distinct, Rachmaninov-like romanticism; the endless, reverberant journeyings of Echo Nebula and The Return of Lincoln are, at times, reminiscent of The Enid; Duty to the Last suggests the contemporary jazz of e.s.t. or Michael Wollny; and later in the story, Death of Amygdala’s piano nocturne eloquence is swelled by the affecting grandeur of a French horn quartet.

But Cowley and co. also like a good pop romp – and The Sharks of Competition‘s relentless Stranglers-punk is counterbalanced by the blithe, synthy delights of Garden of Love. Whatever genre your might hook on it, the Neil Cowley Trio’s multi-faceted approach rebounds across the musical universe, its strains repeatedly a joy to hear.

Released on 16 September 2016, Spacebound Apes is available from Proper Music and various retailers.

Videos: Grace, The City and the Stars.

 

Neil Cowley piano
Rex Horan bass
Evan Jenkins drums
with
Leo Abrahams guitar, fx
Angus West, Oliver Fitzgerald-Lombard, Craig Macdonald French horns
Stile Antico choir

neilcowleytrio.com
spaceboundapes.com
lincolnsdiary.tumblr.com

Hide Inside Records – HIDE/CD002 (2016)

‘Global’ – Interplay

Interplay-Global-300x300

A VERITABLE CORNUCOPIA of musical influences colour the jazz of this lively second release, ‘Global’, from Midlands-based quintet, Interplay.

From the outset, it’s clear that this five-piece’s intent is to offer a programme of upbeat, diverse and accessible jazz – the established line-up of Alan Wakeman (reeds), Richard Baker (trombone), Neil Hunter (keys), Adrian Litvinoff (bass) and Dave Balen (drums) presenting no less than eight impressive Litvinoff originals, as well as their own interpretations of favourites from such luminaries as McCoy Tyner, Abdullah Ibrahim and Pat Metheny.

At the heart of the playlist, Litvinoff’s raga-style Weightless conveys the cosmopolitan flavours to be found here, Dave Balen’s beautifully-weighted tabla producing a mesmeric rhythm from which Alan Wakeman’s gentle, keyboard-backed soprano flows so freely. Autumn Magic is a breezy outing (though also with a darker, pensive look towards Winter), illuminated by Wakeman’s bright shining flute and Richard Baker’s nimble-yet-smooth trombone soloing. Fashion Statement indicates more of a fusion feel, due to its strong organ/synth presence and composer Litvinoff’s electric bass, whilst Su Baille Nuevo dances spiritedly to a mid-tempo flamenco rhythm which increases in intensity as Baker and Wakeman improvise off each other.

Slow Flame, an ’80s creation of Litvinoff’s, finds Alan Wakeman carrying a luscious tenor line over sensitive piano, bass and drums – Baker’s fluent trombone soloing, too, is a delight. In contrast, the quintet gives added vigour to Abdullah Ibrahim’s Imam, soprano sax, trombone and Egyptian tabla a great combination over a harder-edged electric bass ground (perhaps shades of Gilad Atzmon, and very effective!). Neil Hunter’s electric piano on Swift Return provides a cheery, retro-felt samba, Wakeman’s flighty flute enhancing Litvinoff’s first-sign-of-Summer inspiration.

The Cuban All Star Band’s classic Amor Verdadero takes on a higher-energy tempo here, driven along by drums and congas, bristling Latin piano from Hunter and a strong pairing of trombone and tenor. The quintet’s arrangement of McCoy Tyner’s Contemplation sounds particularly fresh with Baker’s sonorous trombone lead, rich tenor soloing, and lavish major/minor piano that its composer would be proud of! Adrian Litvinoff’s acceptance of older age (by his own description) brings warmth and charm to Elders, a gentle, classic-sounding number which includes the clarity and lightness of his own double bass soloing. Shapeshift skims along gleefully to Balen’s and Litvinoff’s up-tempo rhythm, tenor sax and trombone gliding above Hunter’s expert organ and piano work; and Pat Metheny’s Hermitage (sans guitar) eases us out pleasantly with it’s mellow, homely and easy-going nature.

Interplay have developed a reputation over the past few years for bringing contemporary jazz to a wider audience, performing live at numerous gigs, festivals and community events. ‘Global’ pulls together the band’s considerable combined experience (their individual CVs are pretty staggering!) to create this joyful and contrasting studio recording.

For further information, and to purchase, see interplayjazz.co.uk and Silvery Records


Alan Wakeman
tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute
Richard Baker trombone
Neil Hunter keyboards
Adrian Litvinoff double bass, electric bass
Dave Balen drums, congas, tablas, bongos, Egyptian drum, percussion

Silvery Records – SRCD0065 (2013)