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Related Reviews

iDrum Magazine
"healthy provisions of humour and melodrama"
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New York Magazine
"slickly produced in the rough-hewn world of jazz"
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Time Out New York
"handsome originals...strong, stirring stuff"
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New York Times
“featuring the same adaptable trio found on his prepossessing new album, Cowley is well known for bridging the chasm between jazz and pop”
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San Francisco Chronicle
"rocking groove tunes and atmospheric numbers"
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Something Else
"Part George Winston, part Ben Folds, part the Bad Plus... a mighty mixture of elegance, attitude and wit"
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Los Angeles Times
"cinematic strings... crisp melodies and driving interplay between Cowley and his rhythm section"
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Jazz In Space
"straight-up contemporary jazz with a bang-bang edge"
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Midwest Record
"One of those bands that has the special sauce to break out of the critic's darling ghetto and get real people on their side"
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Downbeat Magazine
"I believe London’s jazz scene is the most vibrant right now, and NCT [Neil Cowley Trio] is its most brilliant incarnation"
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Magnet Magazine
"nothing but thrills and excitement" and that, "we're finally experiencing a worthwhile British Invasion (of modern jazz). Check them out." Magnet Magazine.
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Jazz Times
"Neil Cowley and his trio thrilled with a dynamic set, tackling the jazz-rock divide in a different, yet equally engaging fashion. Captivating melodies marked by intricate time signatures and catchy hooks were delivered with a hard-hitting urgency (check the new The Face of Mount Molehill)."
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Irish Examiner
"Like an advert for a popular make of car, take it for a drive and you'll understand"
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SAGA
"powered instrumentals that are smart but not too pleased with themselves"
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Evening Standard
"powerful dynamic"
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Scottish Daily Express
"piano, bass and drums are cleverly augmented"
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Next Bop
"one of those albums that makes good use of all the tools in its toolbox and is certainly worthy of all the depth for which it is striving to achieve"
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Music News
"This is really very fine: top class writing and strong playing, music for a dark and cold night that carries its own heat"
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The Independent
"sophisticated, tightly crafted set which makes you want to go back to the beginning"
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BBC Music
"There’s minimalism, but it’s the minimalism of sheer melodic space, and a refreshing sort of simplicity."
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The Scotsman
"catchy melodic hooks and crunching rhythmic surge"
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Subba Cultcha
“A stunning evolution of the art-form from the countries leading jazz pianist.... a collision between the worlds of jazz and post-rock which takes the complexity of the former and the melodrama of the former.”
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E Music
4 Stars
“its pleasure is in its stimulation: In a very real sense, it’s a refreshing listen.”
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Artic Reviews
“a thumping, full on rock dynamic that closely resembles a Tom Chaplin-less Keane”
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Is This Music
“you’ll want to hear this again and again.”
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The Word
“a lovely record of concise, melodic tracks that might find favour with anyone who has ever been attracted to Brubeck, the Penguin Café Orchestra, or Sumpertramp”
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Jazz Journal
"bounding energy, high drama, puckish wit, and catchy melodic hooks"
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MOJO
"Impressive fourth album"
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Jazzwise
4 Stars
"no-messin' tightly-arranged 'songs without a singer'...another high quality release"
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British Jazz Blog
"a rhythmically driven record with an inventive jazz bite...real must listen for 2012"
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Yorkshire Evening Post
"To pigeonhole The Face of Mount Molehill as a jazz release would do it an injustice - it is simply great music"
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Indie London
“It’s a fascinating listen… as uplifting as it can be sorrowful, but always keen to surprise and delight in its different ways.”
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Scotland Sunday Herald
“…beautifully written and carefully arranged …. a certain grandeur …appealing quirkiness ….and talent for movingly tender reflection”
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Fake DIY
"does not readily conform to pre-conceived notions of jazz...offering almost a rock music-like aesthetic to the proceedings."
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AAA Music
"Lovers of jazz will be excited, touched and thrilled by this album”
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Music OMH
“…moments of graceful poise and pounding insight... Cowley has crafted a coherent, carefully planned suite of music here with a strong conceptual framework and a remarkably consistent sound”
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The Times
"short, catchy tunes and melodies"
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The Telegraph
4 Stars
“…. a loveable English eccentric with odd blend of ‘anthemic’ melody and unexpected moments of pastoral radiance…. (he and strings) work perfectly together”
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Blues & Soul
"the strings and sound collage guitar just keep the ante going up and up. Stupendous!"
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The Line Of Best Fit
"rollicking energy captured...not sound out of place"
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Time Out
4 Stars
“tips the scales of success in favour of his credible hybrid of proggish-rock, jazzy melancholy and English melodic whimsy…a glorious romp of a record”
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Vanguard Online
“This is charming and witty stuff, full of dynamics and a fresh sounding piano that switches between pounding and picking out melodies"
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Shout4Music
"‘The Face Of Mount Molehill’ with its driving rhythmic melodies. He is the type of musician you could only wish on stumbling across in a late night bar and on arrival being drawn into every note.”
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Fwd Music
“Neil Cowley Trio have stuck to what they do best, with mainly piano based melodies throughout this beautiful album. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as the sheer creativity of writing behind this album makes it able to stand out from the crowd”
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The Sunday Times
“worth testing out on a recalcitrant teen who thinks all jazz is as forbidding as Sanskrit“
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17 Seconds
"once heard, you’ll want to hear this again and again.”
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The Guardian
4 Stars
"set audiences bopping to a smart splicing of punchy themes and chord-belting, rock-piano climaxes"
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Record Collector
4 Stars
“wistfully lyrical and dynamic to an adrenaline pumping degree…their most impressive opus yet”
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UNCUT Magazine
4 Stars
“the greatest stadium-filling anthems that Coldplay never wrote"
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Culture Captial
"The Face Of Mount Molehill is diverse and well formed...it’s an album that’s going to stay firmly on my playlist.”
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Alt Sounds
"It's reminiscent of the pop leanings of a composer such as Thomas Newman"
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All Gigs
"award-winning threesome have delivered a smart, polished and pretension-free set"
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Neil Cowley Trio in audaud.com


04 September 2012
audaud.com
Doug Simpson

There are plenty of Neil Cowley fans, but not all of them are jazz listeners. That's because Cowley's type of jazz is not always appreciated by all jazz people. It's not that Cowley's music is too outside, but rather his material appeals to the rock and pop crowd, the same individuals who have made likeminded groups such as The Bad Plus postmodern jazz favorites. Cowley's resume is iconoclastic in relationship to jazz: a classical music prodigy (he performed at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall at age 10) who cites Frank Zappa and Ahmad Jamal as equal influences and has been in the soul-funk band Brand New Heavies, and the downtempo/trip-hop outfit Zero 7. A relatively roundabout training ground for a jazz artist.

In 2002 Cowley formed a trio with bassist Richard Sadler and drummer Evan Jenkins as a vehicle for his compositions. The threesome began to release albums a few years later. The Face of Mount Molehill is the trio's fourth record, and was initially offered in England at the start of this year and become available in CD and digital formats stateside after Labor Day: this review refers to the U.S. CD version. This is Cowley's second full-length to be distributed on the Naim label (the first was the U.S. reissue of 2010's Radio Silence), and marks a change in direction. First, Sadler has been replaced by Rex Horan (who spent time in the UK neo-soul group Mamas Gun): Sadler will be missed, but the professorial Horan brings an enhanced rhythmic drive to an already energetic band, and his contributions are steady and muscular. More explicitly obvious, though, is Cowley's adjustment in his perspective and his maturing musical palette. Cowley has not abandoned his panache for punchy refrains, pummeling chords and his patented, rock-keyboard apogees. During The Face of Mount Molehill, however, Cowley combines his core trio with a strings section and employs effects-laden guitarist Leo Abrahams, who has appeared on Brian Eno projects. Cowley's augmented developmental variations are not completely a surprise: they are based on the trio's live shows at the 2010 London and 2011 Cheltenham jazz festivals, where Cowley also used a strings ensemble. Cowley's recording process, including music from The Face of Mount Molehill, can be seen and heard via a brief online making-of video.

The 12-track record opens with the affectionately poetic "Lament," embroidered with strings and Abrahams' ambient guitar traces, which form an understated backdrop. Another example of Cowley's lyrical quality is the finely constructed "Skies Are Rare," which features some of Cowley's communicative piano work, a first-rate Horan bass improv, and lucid assistance from the strings, which rise up into the mix and then ebb back into the ether. Another elegiac track is the shortened finale, "Siren's Last Look Back," a suitably misty and philosophical denouement with a cinematic attribute.

The more aggressive and standout tunes are those which quicken the pulse, sharpen the edges and bounce the cerebellum (which readers should already know is where the brain's toe-tapping, head-nodding motor control and pleasure center is located). Cowley enthusiasts will be attracted to cuts like "Rooster Was a Witness," with its celebratory piano riffs, lively tempo, and a groove enriched by a pizzicato strings counterpoint, which is later given further melodic heft when the strings implement flowing bowing. This is solidly constituted and arranged, and has an expressive unity of élan and refinement best experienced by hearing it multiple times. The only piece when the trio goes it alone is the rollicking "Fable," which is typical of Cowley's characteristic, pounding keyboard clatter: heavy on rhythm and largely bereft of improvisational elements. The title track dials up the power level even more, with beat-propelled application of strings, bass, drums, clanging sound effects and piano. This is pure zeal with a rushed velocity which may leave non-Cowleyites wondering what just happened. One reviewer opined Cowley often pens "the greatest stadium-filling anthems that Coldplay never wrote." That idea of "songs without words" is represented on the rousing and appealing "Slims," where the strings twirl around Cowley's recurrent piano phrases and Cowley and Horan are allowed a bit more space than on other cuts. Cowley's cracked comical trait rears up during "Mini Ha Ha," which commences with a crazy opening segment with his daughter's sampled laughter, which showcases Cowley's surreal sense of humor: the track then bravely but bizarrely refocuses to an unexpectedly sensitive conclusion highlighted by Horan's serious resonant bass. Older Cowley listeners may not immediately welcome where Cowley's muse has taken him. But The Face of Mount Molehill is a sincere, authentic display of Cowley's sentiments, and conveys a lot more emotional significance than previous efforts: that type of feeling can't and ought not to be disdained or misinterpreted.

 





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