Some of pianist British Alexander Hawkins' most potent outings have been in the intimate duo setting. Think, for example, of Leaps In Leicester (Clean Feed, 2016) with Evan Parker or Shards And Constellations (Intakt, 2020) with cellist Tomeka Reid. To that list can be added this richly-detailed double act with the Polish-born, German-resident saxophonist Angelika Niescier. The set had its genesis in a meeting at the 2016 Berlin Jazz Festival where Hawkins had performed with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and Niescier was about to go onstage with her quintet co-led by pianist Florian Weber and featuring three storied US names in trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Gerald Cleaver.
Just those facts suggest a lot about the music here: that it is informed by an active involvement in partnerships at the highest level, that it is the product of two questing minds and that any perceived demarcations are likely to be seen as challenges not constraints. And so it proves. Two strong and distinctive voices intertwine across 14 cuts, three from Niescier, two from Hawkins, eight joint inventions and one cover. While the tracks clock in at between 57 seconds and over 6 minutes, it is the compositions which tend to promote the lengthier explorations with their compelling mix of structural keystones and wayward inspiration.
At times the highly attuned interchange recalls the classic encounter between Anthony Braxton and Muhal Richard Abrams on Duet 1976 (Arista, 1977), particularly in some of the spikier written elements, but also in terms of the tonal palette, and the wide-ranging material. Hawkins, of course, toured with Braxton in early 2020, as documented on Quartet (Standards) 2020 (New Braxton House), and it may be at his behest that with Niescier they include Abrams' "Arhythm Songy" (a tune which spotlighted Braxton when it first appeared on 1-OQA+19 (Black Saint, 1978)). At first listen, the caffeinated theme seems to erupt unheralded at the very end. But subsequent spins reveal hints of the eventual destination in the introductory dialogue. That sense of playfully blurring boundaries is one which pervades the album.
They spend almost the entire duration in close consort. Hawkins provides the perfect blend of responsive form-seeking gambits and sweeping imagination, while Niescier confirms an arresting presence as she swerves between a classically pure-tone and a plethora of unconventional textures which defy pithy description. Highlights include the opening improv "Brawls And Squabbles" where Hawkins' jerky piano buttresses Niescier's corkscrewing alto, the saxophonist's fast morphing "Un:Tamed" where Hawkins breaks loose with exuberant runs which increasingly reach the extremes, and her boppish "Nexus" which passes in a welter of dashing lines. While the mutual confections generally thrive on contrasts, the penultimate "Tar'ai" offers the biggest change of pace with its focus on spacious serenity.
Soul In Plain Sight stands as a worthy addition to the burgeoning discographies of two players who are rapidly going places.
Brawls And Squabbles; Arhythm Songy; Why Didn’t You; Un:tamed; Shipwrecked Words; Scops;
Weft; Nexus; Metamorphose Einerka Karelle; Loom; As Hemispheres At Home; Limnetic Zone;
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