Neil Cowley Trio - Spacebound Apes
(Hide Inside Records HIDECD002. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)
Spacebound Apes is an out-and-out concept album and multimedia experience. As well as the music, there are at least two websites, a host of videos, a sheet music single and an illustrated book of the music. Inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's book The City And The Stars and recorded with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey in the background (HAL 9000 gets an engineer's credit), there is an unashamed geekiness to the enterprise; but it succeeds or fails on the music.
The music is a distinct departure for Neil Cowley Trio, if not a change of direction: in keeping with their source material, it represents a clear evolution in their sound. The pieces have a more sparse quality than previous releases; there is a lot more space in the sound (pun wholly embraced!).
The typical elements from the trio's earlier recordings are still there - piano riffs which building in intensity, powerful drums and rhythmic, insistent bass playing from Rex Horan. But Evan Jenkins's drumming is more restrained. On Hubris Major, his contribution is restricted to a repeated three-beat pattern for most of the tune. There are very few times when his energetic delivery reaches the frenetic peaks common to earlier recordings. When the trio does get the opportunity to rock out - for the first time on the album on The City and the Stars, or later with The Sharks of Competition - it gives an added impetus.
Their earlier records always had subtle moments, more than an album title such as Loud... Louder... Stop! might suggest. On Spacebound Apes, the introspective moments come to the fore. Neil Cowley's piano playing has a softer, more tempered approach than before. Several tracks feature Cowley predominantly rather than the trio, such as Hubris Major and Echo Nebula, on which Cowley's slow, resonant piano is accompanied by treated percussion and gentle electronic sounds.
There are several collaborators involved in creating Spacebound Apes: as well as a suitably ethereal choir and a French horn section, Leo Abrahams contributes guitar and electronic effects, which add to the textures on particular tracks.
The result is a thoughtful, reflective record, less exuberantly energetic than the trio's earlier recordings, and with fewer exciting crescendos. It is less immediate, with a stripped-back sound. It's the Neil Cowley Trio, Jim - but not as we know it.
Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.
LINK: Don't mention the J-word: how Spotify gifted my jazz tune two million hits (Guardian)
Neil Cowley Trio perform Spacebound Apes at the Union Chapel, Islington, on 27 October, with other gigs around the country.