The Piano Trio Breaks Bad

The Neil Cowley Trio Post-Jazz Piano

It drives like rock, punches like pop, looks like jazz, is wrought like classical and has a punk attitude to boot. That’s the post-jazz piano trio: part genre, part format, a musical synthesis of all and sundry some 20 years in the making and still without a label. It’s one of the most thrilling instrumental forms of music to date. Big names include the Esbjörn Svensson Trio (EST), The Bad Plus and the Neil Cowley Trio with many more on the way.

Described variously as post jazz, power jazz, “jazz for those who don’t like jazz”, whatever you call it, it’s not quite jazz. This music doesn’t swing and there’s not a jazz standard in sight. Instead, it gathers influences from across the ages and leaves the trio format bursting at the seams. What you can expect:

  • rock’s pulsing rhythms, pounding power chords and a piano that growls rather than sings;
  • pop’s catchy riffs, hooks and maybe verse/chorus structure;
  • the wit and colour of jazz;
  • the craftsmanship of classical;
  • an extended emotional range beyond pop’s binary  “I want to sleep with you!” and “You broke my heart and it hurts!”.

Summing up, think of Stravinsky in a mosh pit vying with Monk for the affections of Madonna.

Each of the big names leaves its tread on the genre. The Bad Plus, from the States, makes the avant-garde palatable for the first time in history. Neil Cowley Trio showcases an unbeatable British lyricism. EST, sadly no longer, were unparalleled in continental grace.

Over the coming months we’ll look more closely at the music, the bands and the albums which shape the post-jazz piano trio.

Enjoy and a warm welcome to all.

Ghofur Woodruff