reviewed by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
Neil Cowley describes his first solo record as ‘his most personal album yet’. It is perhaps inevitable, given the record is his first going it alone after more than a dozen in the company of others, either as the Neil Cowley Trio or earlier as half of chillout duo Fragile State. Yet while Cowley is fully aware of using the ‘most personal’ cliché, it is wholly true. Hall Of Mirrors is all about his love-hate relationship with the piano, which he places centrestage.
What’s the music like?
Although the piano is at the heart of everything, this is no set of display pieces. In fact Hall Of Mirrors is a very quiet and extremely intimate album, drawing the listener in through its lack of volume but making deeply personal music along the way.
Around the piano sit elements of Cowley’s career to date, so at times that means lush, expansive textures that bring to mind the work of Fragile State, while delicate touches and hints of syncopated rhythms draw links to the Neil Cowley Trio.
Cowley’s piano lines unfold naturally, dressed with atmospheric touches. It only takes a couple of seconds for opening track Prayer to set the scene, with an ambling line unfolding through a cushioned piano sound. The piano timbre is beautifully done, giving a sound both old and new at the same time, which we hear again on She Lives In Golden Sands.
Berlin Nights has a nice perspective, the close up piano more staccato this time but complemented with atmospheric noises around. There are some nice touches like the sticks on the cymbals in Just Above It All, while Suadade is rather special, with chimes and what sounds like a funfair in the distance as Cowley’s contemplative music moves slowly in the foreground.
Perhaps the most personal music lies in the middle, the slow moving and withdrawn Time Interrupted, or the soft heartbeat that runs beneath Stand Amid The Roar. Both are lovely episodes for quality time out on the part of the listener.
Does it all work?
Yes. Hall Of Mirrors is knitted together beautifully, and its blend of intimacy and wider comfort is ideally balanced. The music is simple and from the heart – there are no chillout clichés in evidence and Cowley doesn’t work his source material too much, allowing it to speak for itself.
Is it recommended?
Yes, without hesitation. Cowley’s most personal album to date is certainly that – a heartfelt and inventive biography of his musical exploits to date.