The Neil Cowley Trio’s unwavering commitment to their concept album ‘Spacebound Apes’, fell short of performing the suite dressed in full astronaut garb. However, uncharacteristically uniform t-shirts, matching skinny jeans, and with Gary Barlow look-a-like Dom Monks on space-synths and effects, there initially seemed a confusing nod towards well-assembled boy band rather than adventuring jazz trio. What followed, however, was a celestial soundscape that journeyed into unexplored territory with dazzling effect.
Above the band were projections of DC Comic Artist Sergio Sandoval’s work, depicting fragments of central character ‘Lincoln’ on a spacebound adventure authored by Cowley. If there was a risk of the music slipping into the role of a soundtrack to the dominant visuals, then drummer Evan Jenkins’ solo on ‘Governance’ ignited the rocket fuel and lifted the performance into orbit. ‘The City and The Stars’ rewarded devotees of the group’s hallmark ‘louder-louder-stop’ technique with irresistible rhythm, now with added layers of squelching synthesisers. A single spotlight illuminated Cowley for a solo piano performance of ‘Grace’, the album’s visceral epicenter: the Union Chapel held its breath as its high-domed ceiling swirled with an interstellar melody.
With some sense of relief in achieving the feat of performing Spacebound Apes in its entirety for only the second time since its release, a quick wardrobe change gave the group opportunity to relax into more familiar territory. Bassist Rex Horan swapped his space-bow and synthesisers for dexterous plucked ostinati and Cowley’s fingers conjured infectious melodies that soared over tricksy time signatures. My osteopathic anxieties remain, but Cowley’s rotating head is an undeniably hypnotic force as the trio launched a standing ovation with a thunderous encore of fan-favourite ‘She Eats Flies’.
Spacebound Apes is out now and you can check it out here.