Neil Cowley Trio - The Face Of Mount Molehill

Will this signpost the way for jazz to take over?

Label: Naim Jazz

Rating: 7

When asked his views on jazz, Steve Albini once replied: ‘Don’t let the fact that it’s utter bunk interfere with your enjoyment of it!’ Despite being a widely practiced musical genre, jazz has never consistently infected the maintstream in the same way as, say, RnB or soul. Jazz is often sniffily dismissed, redolent of that famous Fast Show sketch, with aficionados derided as pretentious woolly types, drowning in their own pseudos-sophistication. Nice.

Which brings us to ‘The Face Of Mount Molehill’, The Neil Cowley Trio’s latest release which does not readily conform to pre-conceived notions of jazz as difficult or unnecessarily show-offy. The album is comprised of twelve easily digestible tracks, ostensibly lead by Cowley’s delicate piano but often propelled by the muscular rhythm section, offering almost a rock music-like aesthetic to the proceedings.

Cowley himself is something of a legend in piano virtuosity; at the age of 10, he played a piano concerto to over a thousand people at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. Eleven years later, he repeated the trick albeit at a teeming Royal Albert Hall. But despite this impeccable pedigree. ‘The Face Of Mount Molehill’ is never in fear of collapse under the weight of Cowley’s musicianship. Instead, he is a generous performer, leaving his bandmates ample opportunity to shine, or, as evinced on standout track ‘Mini Ha Ha’, a sample of his baby daughter chuckling. Such moments of irreverence (the album also features a guest spot from erstwhile Brian Eno collaborator Leo Abrahams) ensure the album doesn’t entirely fall into the schmaltz category. The liberal use of string sections throughout do teeter on the brink of out-and-out cheese but Cowley’s trio have enough class and, dare I say, verve to pull through. Will this signpost the way for jazz to take over? Perhaps not quite yet but the Neil Cowley Trio are certainly on the right path to mainstream acceptance.