Brash, punkish energy, hooks that could snag a whale and sheer invigorating exuberance mark the debut recording of the Neil Cowley Trio (with pianist/composer Cowley, bassist Richard Sadler and drummer Evan Jenkins). A taut ballad, a trancelike rocker, a miniature that recalls Vince Guaraldi, a conundrum set to music, a contemplative swinger—Cowley attacks everything with breathtaking dynamic flair and a surprising, adept touch. With a sure rhythmic feel and an irrepressible and infectious spirit, Cowley and the boys gleefully roll the tunes downhill in a headlong rush—almost, but never quite, losing control every time.
A stunning debut, financed by guitarist/composer/illustrator Okazaki’s second-place finish at the 2005 Monk Competition, Mirror unfolds over the course of three five-part suites, as logical as Euclid and as untidy as birth. Okazaki calls the compositions rhythm-based, and the rhythmic elements do take center stage from time to time (as in Okazaki’s one-note solo on “Howl” that relies almost completely on rhythmic variations for development). Nevertheless, the music is melodically and harmonically rich and surprising, with tight ensemble playing. The musicians give generously of themselves throughout, with sometimes spectacular results, particularly from saxophonists Miguel Zenon and David Binney.
It’s easy to see why pianist/composer/producer Misha Piatigorsky won the 2004 BMI Thelonious Monk Composers competition. This collection of nine originals, plus two covers, offers lucid, spacious tunes with engaging melodies, performed in the classic jazz trio style (with Hans Glawischnig, bass; Ari Hoenig, drums). The problem is the unevenness of the performances. Despite the deeply romantic character of his tunes, Piatigorsky plays half of them with a mystifying lack of urgency and freedom. When he does dig in, as on his father’s tune, “Fishing Boats,” and his own “Lonely Butterfly” and the Monkish “Spanky’s Dilemma,” he fulfills the compositions’ promise.