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CD REVIEW: Alexander Hawkins – Unit[e]

Alexander Hawkins – Unit[e]
(Alexander Hawkins Music. AH002/3. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

This two CD set from pianist, composer and – on one of the two discs – conductor Alexander Hawkins is both a challenging and rewarding record of his large and small ensembles, each taking one disc and both featuring some most accomplished improvisers. The two discs, each given its own title, complement each other.

“[C]all” features Hawkins’ sextet. It is less free with respect to time, drummer Tom Skinner keeping a firm hand on the rhythm on three tracks, but there is a fair dose of anarchy in the mix too. Shabaka Hutchings sparkles on bass clarinet and tenor, as does Hawkins himself. Guitarist Otto Fischer adds fluid melodic lines, as well as providing spoken words to [K]now, on which Hawkins sprinkles phrases with a South African feel.

The more loose tracks such as [T]each, [W]here and [S]how work better for me, the sextet working together to explore new avenues. [W]here features violinist Dylan Bates sharing phrases with Hawkins and bassist Neil Charles before Fischer takes us in one direction and then Bates and Hutchings lead us in another, Skinner all the while adding percussive flourishes and rolls.

The other disc is named “Hear[t]”. Hawkins, Fischer, Bates and Charles are joined by James Arben, Julie Kjaer and Alex Ward on assorted saxes, clarinets and flutes; Laura Jurd and Nick Malcolm on trumpet and flugelhorn; and Stephen Davis on percussion, Hannah Marshall on cello, Percy Pursglove on trumpet and bass and Matthew Wright on electronics. The larger number of players provides for a richer sound.

There are passages where reeds, strings and brass form sections, each playing in unison, such as the beginning of See[k]>Hear[t] where Hawkins has the brass and reeds playing different lines which sometimes come together but are often pulling in different directions. Over the top saxes, trumpets or the violin solo, whilst below percussion and electronics provide texture. The result is multilayered and almost symphonic, a beguiling complexity.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.

Unit[e] is available from Discovery Records

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