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Alexander Hawkins and Tomeka Reid: Shards and Constellations

Troy Dostert By

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Although they have not recorded together previously, pianist Alexander Hawkins and cellist Tomeka Reid are both improvisers with omnivorous musical tastes and soaring ambition. Hawkins has fronted his own ensembles over the years—perhaps the most notable example being Step Wide, Step Deep (Babel, 2014)—but he's been active in freely-improvised contexts as well, working with everyone from Louis Moholo-Moholo to Evan Parker. And Reid has generated ample accolades both for her own quartet, most recently on Old New (Cuneiform, 2019), as well as on one-offs with Nick Mazzarella on Signaling (Nessa, 2017) and Filippo Monico on The Mouser (Relative Pitch, 2019). And that's barely scratching the surface of the extensive discography Reid and Hawkins have already produced in their burgeoning careers.

What the two have in common, and which makes their pairing on their current release, Shards and Constellations, so welcome, is their equal fondness for abstraction and lyricism. Both can play with absolute freedom, yet even in their most outward-leaning moments, a strand of melody or a graceful flourish can serve to re-orient the music in a tuneful direction. Reid's extensive background in Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians has given her a foundation in a side of the jazz tradition in which experimentation and a richly-hued blues vocabulary coexist happily. And Hawkins' own playing exhibits an idiosyncratic disposition that remains connected to earlier touchstones. Both players simultaneously inhabit the tradition and move it forward in myriad ways.

Most of the pieces here are freely improvised, but with an openness to possibilities of harmony, rhythm and texture that give each track a fundamental coherence. Case in point is the opener, "If Becomes Is," where a tentative dialogue involving single-note explorations soon moves into a fast-paced adventure with Reid leading the way, prodding Hawkins into more overt rhythmic territory. And the title track, the aptly-named "Shards and Constellations," sees both players at their most boisterous, with explosive bursts from Reid and jagged runs from Hawkins, yet all the while staying within a fundamentally musical logic, to the point of finding a momentary calm when the tempest subsides. Even the most abstract pieces, "Sung Together" and the closer, "Is Becomes If," find moments of convergence through the players' sympathetic exchanges and overlapping gestures.

Although both musicians are undeniable virtuosos, one doesn't find oneself caught up in marveling at their abilities as much as in the fervency of their quest for a shared perspective. And find it they do—particularly on the two composed tracks, Muhal Richard Abrams's "Peace on You" and Leroy Jenkins's "Albert Ayler (His Life Was Too Short)." Both are gorgeous, with especially stunning arco playing from Reid, adding an emotional heft to the duo's music that is striking. And while both pieces taken at face value are obvious departures from the freer spirit of the rest of the album, in fact the differences may exist more in degree than in category, as Reid and Hawkins prove themselves remarkably adept at finding beauty in even the most unexpected places.

Track Listing

If Becomes Is; Shards and Constellations; Danced Together; Sung Together; Peace on You; Strange Familiar; A Guess That Deepens; Serene and Playful; Albert Ayler (His Life Was Too Short); Is Becomes If.

Personnel

Alexander Hawkins: piano; Tomeka Reid: cello.

Album information

Title: Shards and Constellations | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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