PUNDITS seem to have difficulty with the Neil Cowley Trio. His success as pianist of choice for the likes of Emile Sandé and Adele probably doesn’t help: is he, the beard-strokers ponder, pop-jazz, post-jazz or simply no-jazz? To be honest, Cowley’s formidable power piano trio are more good old-fashioned prog rockers than anything else, with some inevitable shades of the late Esbjörn Svensson Trio and enough jazz mischief to counter prog’s pomposity. There was a distinct Gothic tinge, too, to their thunderous set in this converted church, bathed in the roseate glow of stained glass windows and overhung by organ pipes.
St Luke’s, Glasgow ****
The Hug and Pint, Glasgow ****
It suited them, as they drew from their current, sci-fi themed album, Spacebound Apes, as well as from their back catalogue, Cowley’s melodramatic keyboard stabs, sonorously booming chords and kinetic keyboard churning in numbers such as She Eats Flies or His Nibs suggesting soundtracks looking for a German Expressionist silent movie to accompany. If you really needed a label, “thrash jazz” did come to mind, as they worked up a demented thrumming, ultra-hirsute double-bassist Rex Horan nodding like a contented gnome and Evan Jenkins discharging ferocious drum volleys.
Of course, Cowley can also spell out wistfully tender or hymn-like melodies such as Grace, with Horan switching to a synth keyboard to create a such an awesome wash of celestial sound that you half expected Patrick Moore to materialise.
Back down to earth in the Hug & Pint pub, it was heartening to witness an eager young band playing to an enthusiastic young crowd. Mezcla is Spanish for mixture and this outfit, led by bassist and BBC Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year David Bowdenand with an earlier incumbent, Alan Benzie, on keyboard, were indeed mixing it, gleefully embracing African, Latin-American and even Scottish influences with exuberant energy.
Mezcla’s core sextet, with trumpeter Joshua Elcock, Michael Butcher on tenor sax, Ben MacDonald on guitar and drummer Stephen Henderson, was augmented by vocalist Rachel Lightbody and veteran percussionist Steve Forman. The opening Sammy’s Tune got into a Latiny groove right away, horns chorusing snappily, sax sighing into a solo and a samba rattle to the drums. In contrast, Knockan Crag reflected Highland inspiration with a stately theme before a storm blew up to much percussive thunder.
Lightbody’s wordless vocalising added a third voice to the horns as well as breaking off on her own, although at times she was scarcely audible and a little superfluous. She was pivotal, however, in Mallarone Dreams, chanting a hypnotically languid hook which was taken up by the band, and voicing a delicate fade-out.
All of this was steered by Bowden’s insistently muttering bass guitar while Benzie gave the impression of thoroughly enjoying himself as his keyboards rang and cascaded in the growly rock of Mindsweeper. Henderson and Forman, too, worked up a cheerful sweat in Ouma and the highlife bounce of Happy Monkey Dance.