Monday, April 14, 2008

Neil Cowley Trio - Loud... Louder... Stop! (Candid, 2008)

The Neil Cowley Trio (Cowley, piano; Richard Sadler, bass and Evan Jenkins, drums) fits in well with the modern piano trios who embrace rock and pop music as an important part of the improvising jazz aesthetic. The Bad Plus, EST, and the Brad Mehldau Trio all use rock and pop melodies and tempos as platforms for improvisation, as does the Cowley group on this disc. Dramatic shifts in tempo are used as well, much like the abrupt shifts used by the legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal. On this CD, the band alternates between two areas of playing: fast and percussive improvisations that feature the group's speed and dexterity, and slower performances that spotlight their lush and melodic side. The uptempo tracks like the two opening songs "His Nibs," and "Dinosaur Die" have a fast percussive feel that builds in strength to dynamic flourishes. "We Are Here to Make Plastic" is the highlight of the cookers, with strong rock influenced playing and strong performances all around. The more nuanced slower songs like "Scaredy Cat" and "Clumsy Couple" have rich chords and a quiet, romantic feel to them. This is a solid album of piano jazz by a group that is genuinely looking for new ways to update the genre. The fast/slow dynamic works pretty well, but some more subtle shading in their music would allow them to articulate their ideas fully and separate themselves from the growing field of rock-influenced piano trios.

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