Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
Last time pianist and former child prodigy Neil Cowley played the Jazz Bar in 2006, it was, as he himself observes, a very different room. Since his appearance with bassist Richard Sadler and drummer Evan Jenkins on the cultural barometer that is Jools Holland’s Later to launch their second album, Loud…Louder…Stop!, however, the word is clearly out on this dynamic young maestro. With band mascot Dino Krall, a plastic dinosaur miniature, perched on the piano, the tone is set for a frenetic, almost too perfect set.
The first few numbers mark out a pattern of pounding keyboard motifs that sound sourced from a noticeably American song-book a la Steely Dan, or else rely on driving repetitions resembling a groovier Phillip Glass. Cowley turns away from this template on his newer material, showing off his classical roots (he was playing Shostakovich at the Queen Elizabeth Hall aged ten) with powerful flourishes that punctuate what are in the main a series of technically brilliant one-line miniatures. Sometimes, however, Cowley’s virtuosity can work against him. The restless Clown Town, for instance, is far too self-consciously playful for its own good, and you long for the band to break free of its strictly regimented routine. Elsewhere, things get a tad too close to the coffee table.
The easy bonhomie between Cowley, Sadler and Jenkins during such moments is plain to see, Jools Holland impression and all. Musically, the band is at their most effective during slower, more reflective builds like that on Degree In Intuition. Here a poignant, Keith Jarrett-esque melody, bolstered by martial drums, eventually gives way to a moment of real heart and soul in a set of considerable charm.
Commissioned by The Herald and set to run April 29th 2008, lack of space meant it was never used.