A bit of a quandary: I really enjoyed this gig at Glasgow Jazz Festival; I really REALLY enjoyed it. But I was also a little disappointed. The Neil Cowley Trio are one of the bands I have seen most often in the last few years, and I have high expectations. Featuring music of their new CD, “Touch and Flee” – this was their first gig playing the new tunes – the band said they were a little apprehensive to start with, and they took a while getting into their stride.
The new material seemed less riff-driven and formulaic than their earlier recordings – more contemplative and poignant, perhaps, but also less exuberant. The compositions seem to have a bit of self-doubt added to the mix: they are a bit more abstract, the themes emerging slowly, uncertainly, before catching.
Once they had got their teeth into the gig – new and old tunes – they gained an energy boost, after which they were sailing. Whilst Cowley’s very physical piano-playing commands the attention, the trio seem very much a band, the contributions by drummer Evan Jenkins and bassist Rex Horan are central to the sound. The dynamics of the earlier tunes, epitomised by the title the trio’s second CD, “Loud Louder Stop”, came the fore.
They were spread across the large stage at the Old Fruitmarket, which can’t have helped their early apprehension. There is a lot of humour in their music, too, as well as a narrative drive: Cowley introduces each tune and hints at the stories behind them.
The audience were very appreciative, warmly demanding an encore. Cowley explained how much the festival meant to the band, having given them a gig early in their career.