Hall of Mirrors
For most of the last decade Neil Cowley was leader of The Neil Cowley Trio. A jazz unit that could turn on a dime, funky and sophisticated, always nodding to tradition but alive and exciting and no chance of nodding off when listening to them – there was hints of electronica and the various other shadings that jazz had inspired. And then there was good old re-invention; I remember being introduced to Cowley and his trio’s sound because they played a kick-arse version of the Pinball Theme from Sesame Street – with so much syncopation.
He and his trio were good at building hypnotic worlds within modern jazz – rooms to chill in, vibes for a boogie. And when he wasn’t doing that or if he wasn’t earning from that he had a nice little sideline as Adele’s accompanist, shit like that…
But then Neil fell out of love with the piano, need a break, disbanded the group. Moved to Berlin.
And there he seems to have discovered Max Richter and particularly Nils Frahm and Olafur Arnalds, for he has returned to his piano (and various other keyboards and sound devices) to conjure this Hall of Mirrors. It’s a beautiful work of ambient meets contemporary classical. There’s nary a note of jazz but his dexterous skills from that genre are still on display.
Hall of Mirrors builds slowly across its hour with individual pieces, but it works to listen to it and imagine it as one hour-long through-composed piece.
There’s shades of Rhian Sheehan’s work here – Cowley using the piano as the central, textural element in much the way that Sheehan returns to the guitar to coax melodies and drape textural motifs in his work.
I’m still exploring this album – but had to tell you about it. It’s a recent find for me (among a bunch of relatively recent new releases) and the name was instantly a hallmark of quality. But the music was such a nice surprise; refreshing and yet so fitting as it nestles deep within a genre where I like to spend most of my time these days.