Neil Cowley Trio - The Face Of Mount Molehill (Naim Jazz)

Difficult album from Jazz's Mr Versatile.

Released Apr 9th, 2012 via Naim Jazz / By Norman Miller
Neil Cowley Trio - The Face Of Mount Molehill (Naim Jazz) Neil Cowley is nothing if not versatile – tackling Shostakovich at the Royal Festival Hall, helming keyboards for mainstream stars like Brand New Heavies and Zero 7, then scooping Best Album at the BBC Jazz Awards with his 2006 album Displaced. Add working on Adele's mega-selling 19 to his mainstream credentials.

After albums noted for driving rhythms and sharp hooks he goes for more diversity here, augmenting usual foils Rex Horan (bass) and Evan Jenkins (drums) with a classical string section plus Brian Eno effects guitarist Leo Abrahams. But while there's no doubting the talent, a lack of cohesion clings to the dozen tracks.

'Rooster Was A Witness' and the title track echo the muscularity of previous outings – the former's plucked cellos adding classical counterpoint to bass slap, the latter resorting to rock piano hooks that ultimately fail to spark. 'Fable' is better, its sprightly piano licks progressing into hold-your-hat bucking over staccato back beat.

The best moments come when Cowley loosens up. 'Skies Are Rare' starts off as film music for a rom-com with ideas above its station but soars as more instruments come in, led by slick piano. 'Mini Ha Ha' wittily contrasts the distorted laughter of its opening with a beautifully reflective piano and bass finale, while the classical piano rippling of 'Sirens Last Look Back' has a purity lacking elsewhere.

Elsewhere, nothing quite clicks. 'Slims' is too 'cocktail bar' to be saved by a dash of lilting violin, 'Lament' aims at sweetly pastoral but comes out sickly sweet, and 'Distance By Clockwork' puts jazz and classical together without any real engagement.

'Jazz for Radiohead fans' is a tag previously applied to Cowley – whether you take that as compliment or put-down is really up to you.