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Neil Cowley Trio, Union Chapel, review; ‘Impossible not to enjoy’

PUBLISHED: 19:00 01 November 2016

Neil Cowley Trio. Picture: Tom Barnes

Neil Cowley Trio. Picture: Tom Barnes

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Listening to the album there’s no way to fully comprehend just how complex this music is, but seeing it in all its glory I’m bowled over by the musical skill of the three men in front of me.

A monkey takes off into space and so begins the journey through the Neil Cowley Trio’s latest contribution.

A darkened stage welcomes the three men who launch straight into Weightless, an ethereal start to the concept album, which revolves around the mid-life crisis of an ape-like guy who embarks on an interplanetary trip. No relation to Cowley himself though, of course.

“He just happens to be a 43 year old man wearing big boots and rolled up jeans,” he jokes to the enraptured Union Chapel crowd.

The first half of the group’s set is a full run through of Spacebound Apes, accompanied by Sergio Sandovar’s surreal projected illustrations. Even without this visual aid, the meaning behind the music is plain – it’s a 21st century Holst’s Planet suite.

Listening to the album there’s no way to fully comprehend just how complex this music is, but seeing it in all its glory I’m bowled over by the musical skill of the three men in front of me.

The City and the Stars is animated, while The Sharks of Competition is unsettling. Grace’s melodious and soothing notes lead into Echo Nebula’s synthesised alien reverberations.

After a break and costume change (t-shirts into shirts), they play some of their hits including She Eats Flies from album Displaced (2006). It’s like Flight of the Bumblebee but jazzy.

Neil plays with dexterity and such a love for his piano that it’s impossible not to enjoy.

Teamed up with Rex Horan’s double bass and Evan Jenkins’ driving percussion, there is no element that seems superfluous – each musician gives and holds back at the right time, and Cowley’s composition is subtle brilliance.

The trio are accompanied by their producer Dom Monks and a series of very well planned spotlights that pan around the room in an extra-terrestrial manner.

I was transported and smiled through every second.


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