The concurrent releases of pianist/composer Alexander Hawkins solo and ensemble recordings demonstrate the up-and-coming artist's exceptional range of compositional skills across dissimilar formats. The young Oxford, UK native has been a much sought after sideman, working with free jazz sax legend Evan Parker, saxophonist Joe McPhee and renowned South African drummer, Louis Moholo-Moholo. Hawkins is also a co-leader of the Convergence Quartet featuring cornet virtuoso Taylor Ho Bynum, drummer Harris Eisenstadt, and double bassist Dominic Lash.
Hawkins' solo effort, Song Singular, leaves any attempt to weed out influences a futile exercise. Layered notes and complex textures aggressively course through elaborately composed structures. Adding some elements of free improvisation produces a labyrinth of rapid-fire episodes that necessitate repeated listening to absorb what Hawkins has conceptualized. The pieces are strikingly original and fresh and where Hawkins shows respect for convention, he does not subscribe to it as an ongoing model. An excellent example is his asymmetrical treatment of Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train." On the only cover tune in the collection, Hawkins fragments the usual jazz elements and unpredictably re-imagines the piece.
From the opening of Song Singular, Hawkins draws favorable comparisons to some of the great innovative pianists of our time, particularly Cecil Taylor, but he does so without summoning a direct association. A torrential rain of notes pours out of Hawkins on "The Way We Dance It Here," a blindingly fast paced abstraction that settles down for only a brief instant. Technical flourishes share space with intricate melodies on "Early Then M.A." a sweeping work in comparison to the shambolic opener. The disparity of styles is further emphasized with "Unknown Baobabs (Seen in the Distance)" which drifts in airily before building to a sprawling melody with multiple layers of note clusters, compared to the relatively relaxed swing of "Stillness from 37,000 Ft.."
Nothing is squandered on Song Singular. The narratives play out in runs dominated by solitary notes and bass pulses in rapid successions that would imply free jazz but, in realty, are well-structured. Hawkins' compositions are both accessible and intensely intricate and his playing is powerful, technically brilliant and melodically inventive. Song Singular should have substantial impact on Hawkins' recognition as an avant-garde force.
The Way We Dance It Here; Early Then, M.A.; Joists, Distilled; Stillness from 37,000 ft.; Two Dormant, One Active; Hope Step the Lava Flow; Take the A Train; Distances Between Points; Advice; Unknown Baobabs (Seen in the Distance).
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