‘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)

‘Faces’ – David Lyttle

Faces

BOOKENDED by nonchalant sax improvisation from jazz luminary Joe Lovano, the rapped words declare, “Worth your while to take a second listen to” – and it’s a pleasure to concur. Once in a while, a new, unexpected sound world grabs us by the ears and refuses to let go – something leftfield, eclectic and brimming with honest, heartwarming creativity. David Lyttle’s Faces is such an album.

Lyttle has a creditable biography. From his early beginnings in County Armagh as a young drummer with his parents’ Celtic family folk band – The Lyttle Family – he took up scholarships in the USA and Canada, as well as studying for both BMus and PhD in Ulster, achieving a Doctorate in Music. Since then, his seemingly boundless energy has found him performing, launching his own recording label and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Greg Osby, Soweto Kinch, Jason Rebello, Jean Toussaint, Andreas Varady, Pino Palladino……

Any attempt to categorise the Irishman’s musical ingenuity is tricky, as he confidently skips across an array of genres, creating a melange of fresh, attractive new sounds – and such incisive blending is the key to the success of this third solo outing. Inviting musical friends and family to his album personnel… well, in lesser hands, it could have all gone horribly wrong – but there’s an incredible sagacity to Lyttle’s ten tracks of pop, jazz, soul, folk, rap and hip-hop which become both enchanting and irresistible.

The adventure is there to be discovered – but here’s a flavour…  announced by romantic cello solo, jaunty retro pop/rap The Second Line grooves to Lyttle’s amiable vocals, soulful keys and perky snare. Like many of the compositions, Houdini bubbles with on-the-tip-of-the-tongue influences, here suggesting Jeff Lynne, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Keane and even a tinge of Alan Price’s (Simon Smith’s) ‘Dancing Bear’ – fascinating! A stand-out is the slow, gospel warmth of Seek, featuring the assured vocals of Anne Lyttle (David’s Mum) sustained by John Leighton’s evocative Hammond and pianist Jason Rebello’s perfect, crystalline sensitivity.

Rhea Lyttle (David’s sister) brings radio-friendly disco-pop to two numbers – Detour (including a sprinkling of Jean Toussaint’s soprano sax) and Game Boy, a Buggles-like teenage tale with rapping from Zane, coloured by Michael Buckley’s floral flute. Title track Faces is announced with mischievous “HAhaHAhaha”s from Cleveland Watkiss, whose characterful three-minute vocal/scat groove is a joy; and soft rap Lullaby For The Lost eases out to David Lyttle’s silky Fender Rhodes. Natalie Oliveri exchanges smooth soul voicings with rapper Homecut in To Be Free; and with the last word, Anne Lyttle presents homey, rocking-chair epilogue Perception to Meilana Gillard’s intimately-fashioned woodwinds.

Released on 23 February 2015, and already creating positive vibes across radio airwaves, Faces is available from Lyte Records. ‘Ready with that ‘repeat album’ setting?

 

David Lyttle drums, percussion, keyboards, cello, lead vocals
Keith Duffy bass, guitar
Duke Special lead vocals
Anne Lyttle lead vocals
Rhea Lyttle lead vocals
Cleveland Watkiss lead vocals
Natalie Oliveri lead vocals
Talib Kweli rap
Illspokinn rap
Homecut rap
Zane rap
Jason Rebello piano
John Leighton organ
Tom Harrison sax
Jean Toussaint sax
Joe Lovano sax
Michael Buckley flute
Meilana Gillard woodwinds
Jan Hutchinson violin
Eoin Walsh guitar

davidlyttle.com

Lyte Records (2015)