Sharp-eyed album liner-note readers might recognize UK piano whiz Neil Cowley from his work with funk bands such as the Brand New Heavies and as the featured keyboardist on both of Adele’s albums. But his own work as band frontman to an instrumental genre-mashing jazz trio has gone largely overlooked. This DVD (also available as a Blu-ray and CD) goes a long way to correct that with its portrayal of Cowley’s stunning, career-high performance on the Montreux stage that captures his band and music as the sparks fly.
Cowley’s playing is by turns playful, serious, joyful, pensive and intense as jazz, classical, prog and even traces of pop cohere into a combustive, unpredictable gumbo. But it’s the addition of a four-piece string section to about half the tunes in this 105-minute gig that pushes it into the stratosphere. The quartet, which also appeared on Cowley’s terrific 2012 studio album The Face of Mt. Molehill, underscores the music’s inherent peaks and valleys, adding subtle exclamation points to songs that would already be pretty great without them. Cowley’s very British, cheeky patter—very similar to that of Richard Thompson—is an acquired taste, but once he lays into his piano, his fleet fingers and complex melodies steal the show.
– Hal Horowitz