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Album Review

Alexander Hawkins Trio With Neil Charles And Stephen Davis: Carnival Celestial


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Alexander Hawkins Trio With Neil Charles And Stephen Davis: Carnival Celestial
The laws of probability dictate that if three musicians spend enough time together a trio recording will eventually arise. Pianist Alexander Hawkins, bassist Neil Charles and drummer Stephen Davis have clocked up many a road mile since forming in 2012. They have also recorded together in various settings, notably on the Alexander Hawkins/Elaine Mitchener album UpRoot (Intakt, 2017), with Anthony Braxton on Quartet (Standards) 2020 (New Braxton House, 2021) and on Alexander Hawkins/Mirror Cannon's Break a Vase (Intakt, 2022), which also featured percussionist Richard Olatunde Baker , guitarist Otto Fischer and reeds player Shabaka Hutchings. But Carnival Celestial is their first trio document, and a fascinating one at that.

The trio's language builds on the more adventurous piano groups that have marked the flow of jazz history. Shades of Thelonious Monk, Paul Bley, Cecil Taylor and especially Sun Ra color Hawkins' rhythms—pugnacious, quirky, hypnotic—and his probing single-note lines that hover between dissonance and beauty. Hawkins, however, is a polyglot. A single chord can conjure Duke Ellington, while his meditations swing between Satie-esque plateaus and spiky, Ra-inspired excursions.

The music's through-composed segments seem to suggest themselves readily enough, but that's not necessarily the case; so intuitive are the trio's dialogues, the push and pull, that even when locked into melodic and rhythmic vamps, a sense of adventure prevails.

Hawkins low-level use of static crackle and electronic soundscaping—a signature of the times—feels artfully designed, particularly on the slowly unfurling reverie that is "Rapture," and on the ambient curio "If Nature Were a Bank They Would Have Saved It, Already." But on the whole, the trio's lithe interplay appears to be crafted on the fly. Hawkins' play is characterized by fitful staccato bursts, modulating motifs that play out in both hands and churning explorations that invite innovative responses from Charles and Davis, who propel the music forwards.

Even at the slowest tempi, tensions and arresting dynamics also abound. Mantra-like rhythms grind against Hawkins' twitchy, scurrying runs on "Celestial Cannon," while dark atmospherics dominate the off-kilter noir of "Rupture." Sci-fi abstraction and restless, fractured rhythms go hand-in-hand on "Echo Celestial." But it is when the reins loosen, and when the collective pulse quickens, that the music offers most. In these unfettered, driving passages the trio's interplay is thrilling.

In concert, few trios can match Hawkins, Davis and Charles for the intensity of their improvisational chemistry. Carnival Celestial captures a good deal of that energy, but also underlines the more experimental character of this exceptional trio.

Track Listing

Rapture; Puzzle Cannon; Fuga, The Fast One; Cannon Celestial; Rupture; Sarabande Celestial; Unlimited Groth Increases The Divide; If Nature Were A Bank They Would Have Saved It Already; Carnival Celestial; Counterpoint Celestial; Echo Celestial.


Alexander Hawkins: piano; Neil Charles: bass, acoustic; Stephen Davis: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Alexander Hawkins: synthesizer, sampler, percussion; Neil Charles: percussion: Stephen Davis: percussion.

Album information

Title: Carnival Celestial | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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