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Alexander Hawkins / Elaine Mitchener Quartet: UpRoot

David Rocheleau-Houle By

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Taking risk is—among other things—the essence of free jazz and experimental music. It is by taking risk that musicians can develop their own identity and push further the too many musical borders. With the possibility to take risk, a sense of freedom emerges—whether this sense of freedom refers to something real is not important here—and a range of new possibilities are now being unleashed. A sure sense of freedom emanates from UpRoot, and The Alexander Hawkins / Elaine Mitchener Quartet are making the most of the risks they are taking. The Quartet is constituted of Hawkins on piano, Mitchener on voice, Neil Charles on double bass, and Stephen Davis on drums and percussion.

A deep sense of thoughtfulness emerges from Hawkins' compositions and their renditions, something emphasized by Charles' and Davis' scattered and very strong performance. All the compositions on UpRoot are from Hawkins, except for "Why is Love Such a Funny Thing?" (Patty Waters), "The Miracle" (Jeanne Lee), "Blasé" (Archie Shepp), "Directives" (Mitchener), and "If You Say So" (Charles / Davis / Hawkins / Mitchener). With UpRoot, Hawkins continues to secure his place as a great composer in the free jazz world, a place that he has earned with the publication of many high-quality recordings. His capacity to compose for different contexts (solo, duo, trio, quartet, and larger ensemble) is also admirable. Hawkins, an impressive composer, is also a skilled pianist. On UpRoot, and especially with the track with the the same title, Hawkins' play is sometimes agitated, but without being too overwhelming.

Mitchener is an experimental vocalist and a movement artist. She has worked with—among many others—George Lewis, Phil Minton, Evan Parker, and David Toop. Showing an exceptional control over her voice, she uses different techniques to explore various facets of expression and sound colors. On many tracks, such as "The Miracle / You," "UpRoot," and "OM-SE /Environment Music," Mitchener is uttering sounds that are not words—in some cases, something like "mock words"—to give an unusual texture to the music. This approach and technique, deployed marvelously by Mitchener, adds a different meaning to Hawkins' compositions, as these sounds or "mock words" do not have a fixed meaning as words of natural language have. The risks Mitchener is taking on UpRoot are paying off also because they are supported by great musicians, such as Hawkins, Charles and Davis are. Her voice is one monad of a bigger ensemble within which she merges perfectly.

Track Listing: Why Is Love Such a Funny Thing?; The Miracle / You; UpRoot; If You Say So; Blasé; OM-SE / Environment Music; Joy; Directives / Walk Nicely / I’ll Meet You There.

Personnel: Neil Charles: double bass; Stephen Davis: drums, percussion; Alexander Hawkins: piano; Elaine Mitchener: voice.

Title: UpRoot | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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