Welcome To 'Jazz Shaped', a UK based blog endeavouring to explore the vibrant British jazz scene and the superb musicians that it encompasses.

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Top 3 New Releases
  • The People In Your Neighbourhood
    The People In Your Neighbourhood
    by Led Bib
  • Life to Everything
    Life to Everything
    by Phronesis
  • Touch And Flee
    Touch And Flee
    by Neil Cowley Trio

The Neil Cowley Trio 'Touch and Flee' - Exceptional In Any Situation

Looking Sharp - The Neil Cowley TrioTwenty days ago The Neil Cowley Trio released their latest studio excursion Touch and Flee. I'm still not sure why it has taken me such a long time to write about this record, but every time I've gone to do so my words have lacked a fluidity, a failure to portray an overriding sense of what the album is about. You see, the moment I feel like I've manoeuvred the audible pathways that twist and meander across this record, one wanders off on a tangent; One solitary piano line or chugging bass riff is enough to disrupt an albums-worth of imagery that I've built up in my head. So as I settled down today for my fifth listen, I came to the realisation that perhaps Touch and Flee isn't supposed to portray a particular theme, perhaps there is no wider imagery to be grasped from this record, maybe it is just meant to be enjoyed track by track - on a case by case basis.

The eclectic nature of the record certainly supports my theory. Opening with the brilliantly juxtaposing 'Kneel Down', a track which features some intense rhythmic posturing underneath a low - almost sinister - piano melody from Cowley's left hand, it's common to find yourself settling down for a gloomy and involving hour of music. So track 2 comes as a shock when it enters and disperses any notion of melancholy - a sporadic modal piece which flies directly in the face of those who questions the ensembles jazz credentials. By the time the opening sequence of 'Sparkling' has set in, a Coldplay-esque piano movement which shimmers with pop-prowess in the wake of it's predecessors, all concept of rigidity and theme have dissolved. This is clearly an album that has kicked off the shackles of genre definition - and at this stage why should we expect anything different from this trio?

Touch and Flee goes on to exhibit a diverse range of sounds, from the toe-tapping rhythmic dynamism of 'Couch Slouch' (Which I feel represents everything great about this band), to the Bill Evans-laden 'Bryce' and onto 'Mission' in which Cowley utilises a low-fi keyboard for the introduction.

I didn't know how they were going to top 2012's The Face Of Mount Molehill, and for me I'm not even sure if this does, but where their albums before have playfully reinforced the trio's image as the wonderfully immature twitter/vine junkies that social media proves them to be, Touch and Flee is a proper grown up record which encapsulates their class. My advise to you would be to listen to this album in as many different situations as possible; on a tube journey, on a cross country road trip, whilst you're walking your dog in the woods, it will work everywhere and you'll get a different sense of it each time. 



Please Ensure Neil Cowley Records Are Strapped To Your Face At All Times

Following the release of their latest record, the Neil Cowley Trio have launched a search to find the best use of their bearded artwork. Entrants have until 30th June to submit photos of themselves donning the cover, and will be in with a chance to win two free tickets to any of the bands UK or International tour dates plus a meet and greet with the trio themselves.

All you have to do is take the best, most original pic of yourselves with the release, share it on Facebook @neilcowleytrio or Twitter @neilcowleytrio tagging #touchandflee or email info@neilcowleytrio.com and you’ll immediately go into the hat.

 Good luck - Just don't follow my lead and photograph yourself with an anatomically incorrect entry! (That darkened line a quarter of the way down the picture is Rex - the bassist's - chin ending... not his mouth).


Trish Clowes Presents Emulsion Ⅲ

On Wednesday, celebrated UK saxophonist Trish Clowes will initiate her two day improvised music festival in London's East End. News of the event is likely to have sparked a ripple of appreciation from like-minded fans of the genre, but Clowes and her team have taken steps to ensure that the concert draws in a wider audience than those previously converted.

Emulsion Ⅲ is to take place at Shoreditch's trendy Village Underground - a key venue in the realm of up and coming music - and precedes the fourth birthday celebrations of the capitals hottest independent label 'Black Butter Records'. Furthering this in-vogue image are the musicians on the bill. Wednesday, for example, kicks off with the electronic - almost dancy - inventions of Dan Nicholls and his ensemble; a quartet which stylishly comprise of both improvised audio and visual elements. There's Clowes herself, an acclaimed composer/improviser and recently named BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and ECM Records' 'Food' who provide a unique approach to improvisation infused with the textures of their many European guest members. 

As if the music and location didn't inject enough intrigue, there's something wildly inviting about the thorny branches of the official flyer (Above). Twisted around a variety of instruments that will each play a role in the concert, and having painted the title of the event in incoherent coloured strokes at the top of the page, they imply an edginess that Emulsion Ⅲ seems likely to live up to.

More information here: http://www.trishclowes.com/projects/emulsion 

Get tickets here: http://www.villageunderground.co.uk/


The Resumption Of Me As... Well Just Me Really

The last two months have seen a significant drop in activity across Jazz Shaped; roughly around a 100% drop off. On a personal level I've taken some time to finish up my degree, secure some work and prepare myself for the kick up the arse that will be the transition into real life. I've also used this time to take a break from blogging. Towards the tail end of my last writing session I had begun to pander to the paid opportunities that came my way at the expense of the things that I was genuinely interested in. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking million pound sponsorship deals with Nike or anything, just the odd £50 John Lewis or Amazon voucher - Christ that sounds pathetic. But the lure of payment, however meager, came with a price of its own - deadlines. Before I knew it writing blog posts evoked a similar reaction to my university work.

Throughout the duration of this break I've missed some pretty fantastic records - Polar Bear and Gogo Penguin to name just two - and I'm committed to revisiting any essentials that have evaded me. I'll also be looking ahead to some great releases such as the imminent new record from The Neil Cowley Trio.

I've got some more plans for the blog (Time permitting) and I'm still not 100% sold on the #GoBuyIt feature. I want a platform to be able to showcase records which can be streamed and purchased but I don't think I've quite nailed the title as yet - any suggestions are very welcome on that one.

I'm thoroughly looking forward to getting my teeth back into the blog and having a listen to what I've missed out on in the last couple of months! Most importantly I'm looking forward to writing about some new music that is going to take the scene by storm in the latter half of 2014.


As Music Fans Where Do We Sit With Pono?

Pono Player

With over $4,000,000 raised in kickstarter funding over seven days, the last week has seen the rise and rise of Neil Young's new music player Pono - or at least the notion of it. But whilst this concept of high quality music on the go seems initially well supported, questions are starting to surface about the product.

I have to admit that the first time I watched the Pono trailer, with it's home movie approach to documenting the reaction of the musical great and good, I was completely taken in. It is a very clever piece of footage; there are no high definition shots or expensive studio settings, just our musical hero's in a variety of mundane locations discussing this revolution in sound. 

The questions then, seem to be in the detail. Pono is a portable music device designed to play high quality FLAC files which will be sold from the companies online store. All seems fine so far, until we consider that Pono are offering these high quality FLAC files in varying resolution (dependent on the quality of the available master recordings):

  • CD lossless quality recordings: 1411 kbps (44.1 kHz/16 bit) FLAC files
  • High-resolution recordings: 2304 kbps (48 kHz/24 bit) FLAC files 
  • Higher-resolution recordings: 4608 kbps (96 kHz/24 bit) FLAC files
  • Ultra-high resolution recordings: 9216 kbps (192 kHz/24 bit) FLAC files 
  • This raises three scenarios. Either all albums are priced the same and some are better quality than others. Record's with better quality master files available are more expensive. Or, and it should be noted that I am speculating here, a pricing structure will come into play - making downloading your favourite album a lot less enjoyable; Do you opt for the 1411 Kbps file (guaranteed 6 times more audible information than MP3) or pay extra and go for the 9216 kbps version (30 times more audible information than MP3), and if Pono is about obtaining the best sounding music why give us the option to compromise on that ethos?

    Elsewhere on pricing, the pono tech video presented by Pedram Abrari (SVP Technology & Engineering) shows us a snapshot of the store in which albums are priced at $17.98 (£11.92). Compare that with the $9.99 that iTunes offer the same album's for and there is a sizeable gulf between the two providers.

    A Snapshot of the Pono Store

    Pono seems to be based on a 'You get what you pay for' attitude, and the device, like all quality products, looks as if it is going to take some considerable personal investment. Before you write the venture off though, just step back and consider how nice it is to have a music product pitched at people to really enjoy music on, rather than making listening a bi-product of commutes or gym sessions.

    The startup certainly has its fair share of high profile backers, and with one of the most iconic singer/songwriters of all time at the helm, it is little wonder that so many have engaged with Pono so quickly. Despite concerns I remain with Neil on this one, and I love the idea of looking back in ten years and grimacing at the concept of ever having listened to something as compressed as an MP3.