Source: Karl Ackermann / allaboutjazz
Oxford, UK native Alexander Hawkins continues to chart a course that will inevitably place him in the creative category of pianist/composers of the caliber of Cecil Taylor and Andrew Hill. It is simply a matter of time before this is a young artist—who has an abundance of time—along with a distinctive, broad and progressive vision, comes to wider attention. In his relatively brief career to date, Hawkins has worked as a leader in nonet, ensemble, quartet and solo formats, now adding what seems like the inescapable trio configuration to his portfolio with this namesake release. Alexander Hawkins Trio features a rhythm section that includes bassist Neil Charles who has worked with drummer Jack DeJohnette, trumpeter Terence Blanchard and the Mingus Big Band. Rounding out the group (a working trio since 2012), is drummer Tom Skinner has worked with Ethiopian musician Mulatu Astatke, known as the father of Ethio-jazz. The trio members are also part of Hawkins' larger ensemble.
Hawkins has worked with free jazz sax legend Evan Parker, saxophonist Joe McPhee and the prominent South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo. He is also a co-leader of the Convergence Quartet featuring cornet virtuoso Taylor Ho Bynum, drummer Harris Eisenstadt, and double bassist Dominic Lash. As a leader, Hawkins has demonstrated an extraordinary range of compositional skills across disparate formats. Recording for the cutting-edge Babel label, he released an ensemble effort Step Wide, Step Deep and the solo collection Song Singular both in 2013. As different as those two settings were, Hawkins did a similarly masterful job of disrupting the interpretations of composition and free improvisation to produce an organic sound.
Hawkins is a jazz piano scholar, whose proclivity for the complex doesn't preclude a deep appreciation for the standard-bearers of the art of the trio. But Hawkins vision is occupied by a shape-shifting musical architecture that moves back and forth from dense structures to spare, often changing at lightning fast speed. Skinner is superbly adept at managing and guiding the frenetic pace without sacrificing his own influence. For his part, Charles incorporates elements from a wide range of stimuli and tempers those dissimilar ideas with his own concepts while supporting Hawkins.
Five of the eight tracks are adapted from commissioned works by the BBC and the EFG London Jazz Festival. "Sweet Duke" owes some of its underlying melody to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" but before the tune takes hold, Skinner's infectious beat becomes the point of focus. Hawkins' rapid-fire attack on "Song Singular"—a piece that does not appear on Hawkins' solo collection of the same name—is a stellar display of his imposing technique and innovative concepts. Similarly, "Perhaps 5 or 6 Different Colours" shifts frequently and dramatically starting with a shuffling pace then becoming sparse as Hawkins gradually cascades his way to an absolutely frenetic pace. There are slower paced and somewhat blues-influenced pieces on Alexander Hawkins Trio, particularly "40HB (for Taylor Ho Bynum)" and "AHRA," though these as well are packed with contorted phrases and atypical constructs.
Hawkins is a unique presence in music; not bound by conventional thinking or the typical forces that guide trio playing. He looks through the music to a place that is, frankly, unfathomable to many musicians and listeners but—as a still relatively new voice—everything Hawkins has done as a leader to date, has been a strong and independent statement. Alexander Hawkins Trio continues on the path that will, in time, generate greater recognition for Hawkins.
Alexander Hawkins: piano
Neil Charles: double bass
Tom Skinner: drums, percussion
1. Sweet Duke
2. Song Singular – Owl (friendly) – Canon
3. One Tree Found
4. Perhaps 5 or 6 Different Colours
5. 40HB (for Taylor Ho Bynum)
7. Baobabs + SGrA
8. Blue Notes for a Blue Note (Joy To You)