Switched On – Neil Cowley: Hall Of Mirrors – Reflected (Mote)

neil-cowley-remixed

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

On its release in March, Neil Cowley’s Hall Of Mirrors album made a very strong impression, not least on Arcana – the verdict being ‘a heartfelt and inventive biography of his musical exploits to date’. The album focused on Cowley’s relationship with the piano, but now he hands it over to a carefully chosen set of collaborators for the remix treatment.

What’s the music like?

Cowley’s originals, beautiful and moving in their simplicity, are ripe for the remix treatment – and each of the ten remixers bring a respectful approach to the table, letting the originals speak for themselves, but each of them adding something new. Cowley himself remixes the last track, I Choose The Mountain, by which time the album’s raw material has worked its spell all over again.

Ben Lukas Boysen immerses Prayer in a few ambient clouds, the music floating slowly but surely like a plane crossing the sky. Berlin Nights introduces a few glitchy elements courtesy of Louf, with a dubby beat – a quality replicated by Jacana People for Souls Of The S-Bahn and applied with a bit more force to the bass end and a triple-time beat.

The Kilig remix of Circulation is an intimate, end of day moment, the conversational piano twinned with some quite busy but nicely worked beats. Kate Simko, meanwhile, takes Stand Amid The Roar to the Mediterranean poolside, in a fuzzy remix that Cowley’s old band Fragile State would have been very happy with. The fuzzy feeling continues into Seb Wildblood’s take on Just Above It All, with a lazy guitar, muted trumpet and dappled beats that give a bit more urgency to proceedings.

The Sad City remix of She Lives In Golden Sands has a lovely, windswept start before its amiable electronic chatter, and this moves on to Hector Plimmer’s thoughtful remake of Saudade, with some beautifully rich piano chords.

For the first time we hear a greater emphasis on the percussion in Otzeki’s remix of Tramlines, a dubby deep houser, then it’s back to a wider panorama for The Allegorist’s beatless encounter with Time Interrupted. Finally Cowley’s own work, I Choose The Mountain, takes an urgent beat but gets swept away in the heat haze.

Does it all work?

It does. These alternative versions work really well on their own but also make an album as carefully sequenced as the original Hall Of Mirrors. Cowley’s past as a member of Fragile State makes itself known more clearly in the execution of an album that would work perfectly as an accompaniment to sunset at Café Mambo, but it still keeps the intimacy of the original.

Is it recommended?

It is. The two Halls of Mirrors make ideal companions.

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Switched On – Neil Cowley: Hall Of Mirrors (Mote)

neil-cowley

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.

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