Category Archives: Piano Trio

Month of May: Neil Cowley Trio

I was lukewarm in my review of Spacebound Apes by the Neil Cowley Trio earlier this week but I’m delighted to report that they have released an excellent cover of Month of May (an Arcade Fire song, I understand).

This was recorded as part of the Torch Song initiative, a ‘campaign against living miserably’, to promote awareness of factors that can lead to suicide.

We can all benefit from positive tunes that cheer us up, or in the immortal words of Robbie Burns make us ‘Cock up your beaver!’ (I know what you may be thinking- but it actually means something like ‘cheer yourself up!).

You can listen to Month of May on this link.

Well played the Neil Cowley Trio.

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Touch And Flee: Neil Cowley Trio

Neil Cowley Trio Cover

Piano trios often struggle to offer much that is new and exciting and there’s a great deal of competition. Touch And Flee endeavours to stand out from the crowd. Here, pianist and broadcaster (and onetime Brand New Heavy and Green Nuns Of The Revolution member), Neil Cowley presents nine of his own tunes. What is on offer is a very strong understanding between piano, drum and bass, which is exceptionally well recorded. The challenge with the tunes is whether they will be played enough to become familiar. Whether this will become a ‘go to’ recording will only become clear over time.

Pushed for time, my brief, track by track listening notes follow:-

Kneel Down– percussion to the fore and bass mixed back a bit and ending with a sense of optimism from the keyboards.
Winterlude– a jagged jangly start and very jazzy chords
Sparkling possibly relates to the piano playing in the opening and closing sections.
Gang of One– punchy and percussive with a relentless tension and drive about it
Couch Slouch opens with a lively, rocky drum pattern with Cowley improvising around it. Rex Horan’s bass playing is deft and subtle and all the better for that.
Bryce has a sense of drama and wistfulness about it.
Mission is supplemented by an extra element of electronic keyboards,
Queen the tune I enjoy most at present- possibly because it is in an uplifting major key?
The Art– wistful and plaintiff without really going anywhere. A subdued ending to the set.

For a taster, either visit YouTube or the band’s own website, which is here.

My overall verdict is that there is much to enjoy and nothing to annoy here. Touch And Flee is a good soundtrack to accompany quiet reflection by the listener, although whether any of the nine short tunes have what it takes to become memorable remains to be seen.

The band etc:- Neil Cowley (piano); Evan Jenkins (drums); Rex Horan (bass). Produced: Dom Monks. Recorded: RAK Studios, London. Released June 2014. Naim Jazz 206.
Thanks to Chris for the review copy.

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Sonny Clark Trio: Sonny Clark

Time for another piano centred set, a fine trio recording from 1957 featuring the great Sonny Clark.

Sonny Clark Trio is his second session as a leader at Blue Note and it was recorded on 13 September 1957. It is a subtle album that I return to listen to regularly.

It irritates me when critics damn musicians with faint praise and unfavourable comparisons with their peers and Sonny Clark has been subjected to more than his share of that sort of lazy scrutiny. However, in his excellent book, ‘Cookin’. Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954-65′, Kenny Mathieson offers a more balanced appraisal. He offers the following comment on the Sonny Clark Trio set:-

“…The essentials of that style lie in his massive rhythmic exuberance, tied to sparely applied chordal punctuations and a fluid single line melodic conception in the right hand (with occasional passing recourse to chording for extra emphasis) which suggests the linear influence of horn playing as much as any of his alleged piano mentors. His touch is always sure, and he likes to throw in an unexpected accentuation or shift in dynamic here and there.”

Well said! It is illuminating to hear from a writer who has a musician’s understanding of what is happening.

Dizzy Gillespie’s Be-Bop gets matters off the a slightly frenetic start before it’s time for cocktails with the Rodgers, and Hart I Didn’t Know What Time It Was

Two Bass Hit bops along with great drum fills from Philly Joe Jones before Tadd’s Delight, as the name suggests, a Tadd Dameron composition offers an opportunity for a workout from deft maestro Paul Chambers on bass.

The standard, Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise, a track which has grown on my via covers from a multitude of artists, is one for you to listen to via YouTube courtesy of 60otaku4.

Click on or touch the arrow to listen

Another standard, in the form of I’ll Remember April by Gene DePaul, Patricia Johnston and Don Raye closes the album.

Three alternate tales feature as Bonus tracks on the CD release.

The lives of too many modern jazz musicians were cut short by the occupational hazards, pressures, temptations and demands that were in attendance to a hard working life. Sonny Clark’s light burned brightly before it was extinguished following his death from a heart attack, aged 32 in January 1963. His legacy was a series of albums as leader, which will be explored in due course.

You may spot the anagram in the title of Bill Evans’ elegy: NYCs No Lark, which follows, again courtesy of YouTube:-

The band etc: Sonny Clark (piano); Philly Joe Jones (drums); Paul Chambers (bass). Recorded: 13 September 1957. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, New Jersey. Produced: Al Lion; Engineer: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Murray Stein. Issued as Blue Note 1579.

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Movin’ & Groovin’: Horace Parlan

To date, I haven’t taken a look at any piano trios, so putting that right is overdue. Horace Parlan’s debut as a leader, Movin’ & Groovin’ from 1960 is a particular favourite that I have been enjoying since 2010 when visit to Tokyo gave me the opportunity to purchase some Blue Note titles that were then a bit harder to find in the UK.

Horace Parlan was born in Pittsburgh in 1931. Childhood polio led to lifelong partial paralysis of his right hand and I understand that a young Horace took up piano, partly as a form of therapy. Needs must, and his physical challenge was answered by greater use being made of his left hand, which set him apart from other players. In 1957 he moved to New York City and the Movin’ & Groovin‘ session was recorded for Blue Note three years later.

Movin & Groovin Cover

The album is largely made up of Parlan’s interpretations of other people’s tunes, and Duke Ellington’s C Jam Blues provides the starting point. There’s just the right degree of what I, as a non-piano playing listener, perceive as building tension in his playing.

Next up is On Green Dolphin Street. Prior to hearing this LP I was most familiar with a version recorded by Miles Davis. The light and joyful optimism Of Horace Parlan’s treatment makes it a track I listen to often. It was a title tune of a film that broke UK box office records in 1947. It starred Lana Turner in what sounds like something of a rom com where a man gets drunk and writes a letter proposing marriage to one of two sisters who both love him. The wrong sister opens the letter! Oh well, there have probably been flimsier plots and it’s lasting legacy was a fine tune, which you can listen to on YouTube- clip courtesy of 1Blue1

To listen, touch or click on the arrow.

Up in Cynthia’s Room is the sole self-composed tune on this set. It has a fine strolling bass line and is strong without being too demanding to listen to. Lazy Bird is the Tad Dameron standard. It offers a chance for Al Harewood to show that he knows the way around the full range of his kit.

Bag’s Groove is a bustling tune that made me think about Hollywood and dancing as I listened. There probably isn’t such a thing as a foxtrot hustle, but if there was this would be what it could be performed to.

Stella by Starlight offers Parlan another chance to deliver a jazz standard, as does There is No Greater Love, while the set closes with It Could Happen to You. My 92 year old aunt was bouncing along to this one and smiling as it played- so thanks for that Mr Parlan.

Horace Parlan is one of the survivors. In 1971 he decided to move to Europe after being robbed and witnessing other street violence in New York City stating that: “You cannot create good music in an atmosphere full of tension with drugs and crime on the streets.” On the following YouTube clip from a documentary filmed in 2000 (courtesy of DonMcGlynnFilms) he plays a tune entitled Love and Peace and explains how essential these things are to all of us.

To listen, touch or click on the arrow.

Recent posts on London Jazz Collector’s site have looked at two recordings from 1977 and 1980 that Archie Shepp made with him, in which they revisit blues and gospel standards (you can read about them here and here). They remain a treat that I have yet to fully experience, but I can wholeheartedly recommend Movin’ and Groovin‘ as a great starting point for any exploration of Horace Parlan’s piano style.

The band etc: Horace Parlan (piano); Al Harewood (drums); George Tucker (bass). Recorded: 29 February 1960. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, New Jersey. Produced: Al Lion; Engineer: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note 4028.

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