Alexander Hawkins Ensemble at the Vortex, London
Lash has forged a strong association with Hawkins, featuring alongside him in the Convergence Quartet as well as in the Barkingside collective. He proved well versed in avant bass vocabulary but also ready to dig into a riff with gusto, this ambidextrousness being a trait which characterized the whole band. During the improvisational space in the second set's "Sarah Teaches Kirsty to Read" Lash demonstrated his credentials in one solo where he threaded his bow between the strings of his bass to produce koto-like sonorities before proceeding with a buzzing drone. Elsewhere his search for the unconventional saw him bowing on the neck of his bass alternately behind the key stops and below the bridge to novel effect.
Aside from his astute selection of covers to sit alongside his own varied and challenging compositions, Hawkins impressed as a thrilling improvisor, rampaging up and down the keyboard. He took a great solo spot at the conclusion of his own "Song Dance Blues" which from a bluesy kneesup, corralled Ellington's "Take The A Train" into a hyperspeed blur within an explosion of notes at the opposite extremes of the keyboard, reminiscent of some of Matthew Shipp's more stark juxtapositions. To complete the rollcall of homage he finished the solo by segueing into the churchy opening chords of Sun Ra's "Love in Outer Space." As the band piled into the joyful rolling vamp behind him, Robinson extracted even more sunshine from his rumbustuously tolling pans concluding what was one of the evening's highlights with a warm glow. Multi-instrumentalist Robinson, more usually heard on vibraphone was almost the elder statesman in this company, having first come to prominence alongside Courtney Pinewith the Jazz Warriors in the early 1980s and numbering two Blue Note albums in his discography from the mid '90s. However he didn't hog the limelight and his pans added subtle accents to the rhythmic stew and spiced the thick interplay with their distinctive sonority.
Hawkins shares his predilection for stealthy composition and a good tune with Bynum, so it was fitting that they chose to finish with the cornetist's enigmatic "Mmpf" which started with disconnected taps here, and scrapes there, then subliminal hints at a tune from fragments of first piano, then cello and bass amid the apparently random soundings which eventually coalesced into a lovely repeated melody ending on an unresolved rising note like an aural question mark. The answer came in the full-throated approval of a great night confirming Hawkins' as someone whose company is likely to be increasingly welcome.