Last we heard from Neil Cowley was in the summer of 2019 when the pianist embarked on a shift to electronica with Beat Infinitum, a big change away from his hit piano trio long since no more. You'd hardly notice opening tracks 'Prayer' and 'Berlin Nights' in their quietude. 'Circulation' is more like the old Neil at the beginning, a perky riff, almost something Alfa Mist would come up with these days, promising much. Live at Montreux 2012 with the trio was the last record of Cowley's that I really enjoyed but remain a fan through many ups and downs. The Sadler-era Displaced (released in 2006) is probably my favourite of all.
Has the wheel turned? Yes. Beautifully engineered layers wash and caress the piano lines, acres of repetition imbued with a certain warmth mark a return to form, Cowley long since in a new creative phase an ocean away from his jazz years and yet what he is doing on this heavily produced piano album invites you back into his world where genre is at best only a meaningless rubric.
'She Lives in Golden Sands' is more optimistic but you might be frustrated by the lack of improvisation until you realise that this is not a jazz album (it won't take long to do that) and yet Cowley, most famed for being the pianist on Adele's 'Rolling in the Deep' was long lauded by jazz fans way before and in chill-out even earlier.
There is a lot of melancholia on 'Just Above It All' and the whole album recorded in London and Berlin is as if cloaked in a miasma of tears. 'Souls of the S-Bahn' is where Hall of Mirrors goes deepest. Certainly you can't forget how fine a composer Cowley is, someone who has a disarming way with melody, especially hooking you in to material that you think is easy to know but actually takes you down some winding roads. There is a sense of hush and lowness that is very well caught throughout. But you won't be looking to this record for lots of groove. At its worst it disappears entirely (say on 'Time Interrupted' and 'Tram Lines') but then it staggers back to life with the brittle jump start of 'Stand Amid the Roar' and an almost Eno-type wake up call.
'I Choose the Mountain' shrouded in misty reverb is quite a moment and the album steals away in the end. You feel Cowley has been through some very tough times listening to this. He bares his soul and wins you over in his best work in a long while and is totally worth investigating by the more open eared of his jazz mates. Nothing is lost in translation. SG Out now