Neil Cowley Trio – Touch and Flee ★★★★

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Neil Cowley (p, kys), Rex Horan (b) and Evan Jenkins (d).
Rec. date not stated

As with another widely admired piano trio, The Necks, Neil Cowley Trio tends to get coverage in the jazz media while remaining the eternal outsiders. On their previous 2012 CD The Face of Mount Molehill, the leader, pianist and composer successfully – artistically as well as in terms of widening their audience – expanded the sound canvas to include strings for the first time.

On Touch and Flee the pianist-composer has returned to the core of the acoustic trio but continues to open up the sound to a widescreen concert hall aesthetic aligned to contemporary rock and hip hop-derived production values courtesy of the rock engineer Dom Marks, his contribution a more central one than on previous CDs. Those who enjoyed the instant ear-worm melodies, slamming pub rock piano, swelling dynamics, and quirky Charlie Brown-ish jazz of previous albums, will have to be far more patient with Touch and Flee. Those ingredients are still in the mix, but expressed implicitly rather than in-your-face.

But rewards come to those who wait. Balanced between a classical melancholic elegance and a hypnotic postrock ambience, Touch and Flee is closer in its aesthetic to ECM trios such as ‘zen’ funkers Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin. It’s a recording of hidden depths and on-the-pulse sonic values that signals a bright new chapter in the Neil Cowley Trio story.

– Selwyn Harris