Neil Cowley Trio @ Corn Exchange, Brighton 09.10.14

The three-piece turn in a superlative, XL live set in Brighton

Oct 9th, 2014 at Corn Exchange, Brighton / By Norman Miller
Neil Cowley Trio @ Corn Exchange, Brighton 09.10.14 “We've just played the Barbican as a warm-up for Brighton,“ says Neil Cowley early on to a pleasingly packed Corn Exchange, and by the end of a storming two-hour double set that the Trio seem to enjoy almost as much as us it's not clear if he's joking – especially after revealing family ties through his dad being Brighton-born music hall legend Max Miller's musical director.

There's as much warmth in the auditorium as between Cowley, his brilliant drummer Evan Jenkins and bass player Rex Horan, whose immense beard is almost a distraction from his fabulous slithering fingerwork. The set offers a distinctive split between a first-half run-through of the reflective 2014 album Touch and Flee (check out the Bearded review) and a more boisterous second-half dip into the generally louder stuff.

The sound is fantastic, every note as razor sharp as the teeth of the toy T-Rex perched engagingly on Cowley's Yamaha grand. Touch and Flee hangs together as beautifully live as on record – a paean to inspired composition, artful pauses and time-shifting jazz smarts. Standouts include ‘Kneel Down's’ blend of beauty and rangey menace, a slinking dreamlike ‘Sparkling’, and the sassy swaying inflections of ‘Gang of One’. The melancholy gem ‘Bryce’ is a perfect precursor to the lilting lyricism meets power chords of ‘Queen’, and the meditative finale of ‘The Art’.

The second hour is more muscular, with a lot more of Cowley's trademark quips and colourful background detail to tracks like a fiercely-played ‘Rooster Was a Witness’. A brilliant ‘Degree In Intuition’ segues between romanticism and raunch, while ‘Box Lily’ is a gorgeous evocation of the anxiety and hope attached to the troubled birth of Cowley's daughter. ‘Hope Machine’ provides a perfect poppy finale.

There's not been a single duff moment over two hours, and a roaring crowd are rewarded with a breathless encore of ‘She Eats Flies’ that ends with a trio of furiously bobbing heads on stage and Cowley standing on the piano stool to blast the final chords.