‘Unit[e]’ – Alexander Hawkins (2CD)

Alexander Hawkins —Double CD Digipak-v1.3

BEHIND THAT intensely black, nondescript cover… well, perhaps even the initiated might only hazard a guess at the mercurial ninety minutes of original music presented in this double CD – Unit[e] – from Oxford-based pianist and composer Alexander Hawkins.

Previous albums such as Song Singular, Step Wide, Step Deep and Alexander Hawkins Trio have identified a distinctly explorative musician whose avant garde approach to jazz and improvisation is fed by many influences, suggesting the left-field vociferations of Ornette Coleman or Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and most certainly the classic, genteel swing of Duke Ellington (Hawkins describes The Duke as possibly the most basic element of his DNA). The recording is split into two sessions – the sextet of CD1, [C]ALL; the larger ensemble of CD2, HEAR[T] (personnel listed below) – and Hawkins refers to his use of square brackets in each piece’s title as an intentional ‘add or subtract a letter’ couplet device, for example: [W]here (‘here’ is one answer to ‘where’) and [S]how (‘show’ is one answer to ‘how’).

The seven tracks of [C]ALL find Hawkins’ piano in dialogue with violin, guitar, bass clarinet/tenor sax, double bass and drums – and an overarching reference to jazz tradition seems infused throughout, opening with For the People‘s perpetual, blustering, unison riff which invites Tom Skinner’s excited percussion and Shabaka Hutchings’ characteristic tenor squawks, as well as contrastingly mellow electric guitar lines from Otto Fischer. [C]all (parts 1 and 2) stomp proudly to an unusually beautiful, almost naive dance groove (in the right mood, a wonderfully cacophonous seven minutes to get into); and overlapping instrumental voices in [T]each ruminate freely to Hawkins’ sparky, leaping piano before eventually and quietly admitting defeat. The heritage jazz foundation of Hawkins’ work becomes more prominent in [K]now, where ‘MC’ Otto Fischer delivers his calmative, abstract narrative over an oblique lounge ensemble (the Ellington link accentuated by Hawkins’ delicious, semitonal chords). The fiddle and double bass of Dylan Bates and Neil Charles, in [W]here, introduce searching guitar and bass clarinet improvisations over angular piano and drums; and [S]how‘s relative spaciousness seems to beckon the listener inside, to join its subterranean roaming.

With Hawkins directing from the piano, HEAR[T]‘s thirteen-piece ensemble treads a freer, less structural path through five tracks which frequently groan and exclaim with a bewildering mesh of sounds. [Forge[t] is boisterous, irascible and anarchic, whilst the palpable trad swing of fifteen-minute-plus See[k] > Hear[t] includes splendid horn combinations and distressed flute, underpinned by Stephen Davis’ colourful percussion and enhanced by intriguing live electronics (a multifaceted experience worth staying with!). Idea[l]’s pandemonium recalls the cosmic, orchestral colour of David Bedford’s ‘Star’s End’; the awakening of [Sun[g] > Star[k] might summon Aaron Copland’s broad, restful landscapes (and its crescendoing trumpet-led progression perhaps akin to his ‘Rodeo’); and title track Unit[e]‘s nebulous instrumentation, carried on thinly-sustained strings, hints at dark-sky activity, complete with effusive, empyrean swing-band celebration.

Alexander Hawkins’ creativity may be challenging… but his jazz credentials and true, unfettered expression make it one hell of a ride!

Released on 7 July 2017, Unit[e] is available as a double CD from Discovery Records or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

CD1: [C]ALL
Dylan Bates
violin
Neil Charles double bass
Otto Fischer
guitar, voice
Alexander Hawkins
piano
Shabaka Hutchings bass clarinet, tenor saxophone
Tom Skinner drums

CD2: HEAR[T]
James Arben flute, tenor saxophone
Dylan Bates violin
Neil Charles double bass
Stephen Davis drums, percussion
Otto Fischer guitar
Alexander Hawkins piano, conductor
Laura Jurd trumpet
Julie Kjær flute, alto flute, alto saxophone, bass clarinet
Nick Malcolm trumpet, flugelhorn
Hannah Marshall cello
Percy Pursglove trumpet, double bass
Alex Ward clarinet
Matthew Wright live electronics

alexanderhawkinsmusic.com

Self-released – AH1002/3 (2017)

‘Woven Entity’ – Woven Entity

WovenEntity

THE INTRIGUE, acceptance and then fascination with offbeat musical creativity is a sequence of emotions which, in my book, remains enduringly satisfying – those awakening senses of discovery and abandonment exposing hitherto uncharted soundscapes.

Oliver Weindling’s Babel Label (now in its 21st year) is the place to head for such revelations, the latest being this eponymous debut from electro-percussive quartet Woven Entity: Lascelle Gordon (percussion and electronics), Patrick Dawes (percussion), Paul May (drums) and Peter Marsh (bass), joined by guests Ben Cowen (keys, electronics), Julie Kjaer (alto sax, flute) and Alan Wilkinson (alto sax).

Woven Entity’s four base quartet members have impressive individual CVs and, formed in 2010, this collaboration interlaces shifting, free-running textures, effects and grooves, all with a strong hypnotic attraction. The instrumental psychedelia becomes progressively immersive (especially when experienced loud) as the album proceeds with a phantasmagoria of electronics, percussion, mechanicals and field recordings, plus the introduction of atmospheric saxes and flute. This is not the jazz of comfortable melody and rhythm, hard- or post-bop, but rather an exploration into the unknown which initially feels mysterious – even challenging – but then, with its divergence, saturation and complexity of sound mix, arrives at ‘compelling’.

Selecting some pointers from the ten tracks, the randomness of bass, drums, bongos and balafon in Naked Eye gradually transforms into a mesmeric riff illuminated by the brash, dry African mystery of Julie Kjaer’s flute; This Day Will Come suggests woodland clearings, Peter Marsh’s thrummed bass accompanied by echoic birdsong and childlike harmonica; and So Black Dada‘s vocalised jaw harp and multifarious percussive rattlings are joined by the hollow-yet-melodic alto sax of Alan Wilkinson.

Trissh, an engaging ‘clockwork gamelan’, evolves into slow, deep trance peppered with electronics; and a cacophony of scribbles and scrawls announces ten-minute Earth/Crisis, a brooding, mobile bass riff over which Julie Kjaer’s alto fidgets and squawks almost involuntarily before heavy drumming builds in intensity, Kjaer’s electronically-manipulated sax becoming more shawm-like. Point Noir is bathed in esoteric mysticism, as if viewing safely from a distance, its brilliantly flutter-tongued flute over foreboding percussion and sustained, otherworldly electronics adding a sense of widescreen drama; and Moors & Orandas closes with its tantalisingly short burst of soundtrack, again featuring the propulsive bass of Marsh… a trailer for volume two, perhaps!

Check out this absorbing release for yourself, available both as physical CD and download (with unlimited streaming) at Bandcamp. Woven Entity’s excitingly original sound feels particularly visual (maybe an oxymoron, but true) – no surprise, then, that their live London appearances have been so warmly received.

 

Lascelle Gordon percussion and electronics
Patrick Dawes percussion
Paul May drums
Peter Marsh bass
with
Ben Cowen keys, electronics
Julie Kjaer alto saxophone, flute
Alan Wilkinson alto saxophone

wovenentity.blogspot.co.uk
babellabel.co.uk

Babel Label – BDV13123 (2014)