Live At Montreux 2012

Neil Cowley Trio

Eagle Rock, 2013

http://www.neilcowleytrio.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/16/2013

Some music just sounds better on a rainy day.

The Neil Cowley Trio's first live CD (and fifth release overall) falls in that category. On tour for their 2012 disc The Face of Mount Molehill, the trio played the venerable Montreux Jazz Festival that year at the Miles Davis Hall. This disc captures 12 of the 15 songs played that day, with the majority of Mount Molehill being played as well as a couple of songs reaching back to the 2006 debut.

Ardent pop fans may recognize Cowley as the pianist for Adele's 19 and 21 discs; anyone who was moved by the emotional accompaniment to her "Someone Like You" will find much to like about this disc. Cowley, bassist Rex Horan and drummer Evan Jenkins were joined on stage by two violinsts, a violist and a cellist, and the result is a relaxing piece of music perfect for a rainy day.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Lament" doesn't appear to have been recorded live - there is no crowd noise before or after - but it is a lovely, short piano solo all the same, though its positive vibes suggest less of a lament and more of a hopeful rebirth. "Rooster Was a Witness" is alternately pounding and whimsical, switching moods just when the listener gets settled into one, the strings plucking and sighing in between Cowley's pointed attacks.

Had the rest of the music followed the pattern of "Rooster," this would have been a fascinating listen. Unfortunately, about half the disc tends to sound similar after a while, blending together without a lot to distinguish individual songs. "Hug the Greyhound" starts with an interesting piano riff but gets lost in aimless jamming, while "Slims," "How Do We Catch Up," "Meyer" and "Distance by Clockwork," although played well, fail to really catch fire.

"Box Lily" is quite good, a morose piece that uses pauses to tell the first half of the story, stopping briefly for an uptempo ray of hope before returning to the mire, ending on a sad note. "Hope Machine" has potential in its first few minutes, Horan's insistent, galloping bass acting as a counterpoint to Cowley and the strings, but the song loses its focus in the final minutes.

In the liner notes, Cowley says the trio's sets are about energy, and the closing number "She Eats Flies" should assuage any fears that the band's road warrior ways had drained them somehow. He was off by two songs; the dramatic pounding and action-packed "Fable" - the best song here - is far more energetic and vital than the 13-minute "Flies," which just drones on and on without any sort of musical resolution until the final few minutes, when Cowley's low-end piano and Jenkins' drums do battle to the finish. It would make a good horror movie soundtrack but could easily lose the first six minutes or so.

Although classified as jazz, there are no horns of any kind here; the focus is squarely on Cowley, the rhythm section groove and the occasional string backup. Not all of the music has personality, but enough works to recommend it as a solid effort in its own right, a great introduction to the Trio and the perfect disc for a rainy day.

Rating: B-

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