BRITISH pianist Neil Cowley, who released a septet of albums sitting astride the point where jazz begins to shade into modern composition and ‘tronica over a period of ten years from 2006, has been on something of a musical journey.
Having dissolved his previous combo, the Neil Cowley Trio, he’d seemingly fallen out of love with the piano – or it him. He felt he had to maybe depart from the stool to find a new medium of expression.
He relocated to Berlin, began a collaboration with Erased Tapes man Ben Lukas Boysen, resulting in 2019’s digital-only Beat Infinitum EP; even a one-hour mix for Ninja Tune’s legendary Solid Steel radio show, which took in The Prisoner, Bowie and Can. There was such a curve of creativity into the electronic. The controls were set ever outwards.
But was this wasn’t quite how Neil felt. He yearned for the ivories. One day he found himself back at the piano in his adopted Berlin; no forethought, just playing. And then he pressed record. An album happened. Quickly. And the result is a return to that interrelationship and exploration of many decades, entitled Hall Of Mirrors.
It’s a lovely record, it really is; one of which we were moved to write: “It’s a very European album – and by that yes, I do mean Britain too, look at the map; I also find it very much an album of being out and about in the city for the day, maybe entirely centred and alone, bringing the evocations and impressions of the day home with you as little memory photographs; if you had a reasonable degree of musical talent (present company, dear reader, mostly excused), this may be the way you chose to diarise that time spent.
“Here I see another companion album in Sam Prekop’s Comma, a very electronic conversation with Chicago. The two of these would really interesting and enveloping back to back for a couple of transits of the DLR through Canary Wharf – travel within that monument to Homo sapiens, our very own ants’ nests, the built environment; the city.
Of course, it’s so much more than one man at the keys, with little spices of electronica and its emotive power, as we shall see. Each piece is piano-led; and each has been post-processed differently, but with a light touch and absolute understanding; hence the name of the album. Recognisable, wholly; but other.”
Today he’s released a video for the lovely, immersive “I Choose The Mountain”; a video he summates as being made “with love to Wim Wenders”. You can immerse in that below.
“I Choose The Mountain” plays out at a level of open ambience, and as much as it’s a love letter to the piano, it feels like a love letter to that instrument’s marvellous resonance. You know, that flat refusal to die away, that “Day In The Life” end chord that hums down forever. That. That gorgeous thing. Just when you cosy up inside, about halfway through, there’s a massive, swelling arc of tonally edged ‘tronica to give you shivers of pleasure. It’s an incredible moment.
Neil observes with acute intelligence and a little self-deprecation: “Hall Of Mirrors is my most personal album to date. How many times do we hear that line? Often it appears as a fall back when there seems like there’s nothing else to say.
“And yet, as with all hyperbole, there has to be a grain of truth in it somewhere.
“Sometimes my friend, sometimes my enemy; we are inextricably linked the piano and I. And for the time being we are getting along.
“Music never knows how wonderful it is until it falls into the ear of the listener.”
Neil has also been presenting a podcast interviewing artists about their creative processes and has a live show planned at Islington Assembly Hall, London, for June 17th; you can get tickets for that here. Now that should be a beautiful thing.
Neil Cowley’s Hall Of Mirrors is out now from Mote on digital download and double vinyl.