(Cafe Oto, 1 November 2020; drawings and review by Geoffrey Winston)
“It does feel like something of a miracle to be here,” declared a smiling Alexander Hawkins, only just believing that Cafe Oto had been able to open its doors once more to a paying and sold-out audience, albeit of around thirty souls, all of whom were, no doubt, metaphorically, also pinching themselves at the prospect of two live solo piano sets from this ground-breaking performer/composer who never balks at ripping through the boundaries of genre imprisonment.
With jazz and its outer edges at the heart of his repertoire and of his many collaborations, jazz, classical, contemporary and, indeed, music which defies categorisation are all within his sights, to which his opening gambit testified.
Hawkins is a significant authority on Anthony Braxton and early this year was a key player in Braxton’s ‘The Standard Quartet’ run at Cafe Oto (reviewed). As he has written in this review-essay for LJN, “Braxton’s creativity seemingly bypasses traditional modes of production. His vision is completely and disarmingly unimpaired by ideas of ‘the way things are done’, or more simply, by ideas of what is realistic.”
Anthony Braxton’s 1974 Composition 40c involved Hawkins in a process of physical intervention with the piano, placing metal and other small stoppers between the piano wires and introducing careful workings and explorations of their consequences. Plucking and striking the wires, chimes and echoes emerged with Hawkins gradually migrating to the keyboard, with deliberately tentative strikes right at the top end and then in the bass register. Weaving tense, tinny, flattened tones and gamelan vibrations, Nancarrow-esque complexities emerged with temporal registers and thematic statements overlaid as left and right hand followed independent trajectories. The beauty of Braxton’s circular intent returned as Hawkins gradually extracted each stopper from the body of the piano to draw the piece to its conclusion.
From gentle fluidity Ellington’s perennial The Star-Crossed Lovers swiftly became a creative battlefield as the keyboard was crushed and hammered and rich improvisation flew at breakneck speed, semi-segueing in to Prelude to a Kiss. Hawkins touched at the heart of Ellington, summoning up the spirit which Johnny Hodges and the Duke memorably articulated in recordings of these two compositions as he paid his own homage to Duke as the master of composition.
The second set had a touch of Reich’s Different Trains at the outset as Hawkins, at one with the piano, moved in to entrancing, dynamically structured power plays with space for soft, melodic passages and contrapuntal clashes. Ultimately about performance, Hawkins prefaced his mini-encores with a reflection on how memory blocks can highlight the fragility of a live performance, switching finally from a few bars of a Bach Sarabande (”I’m in the wrong place”) to a captivating improvisation taking in Ellington’s Take the A-Train, leaving all those in Cafe Oto ruing the directives which have, again, put the brakes on live concert attendance.
A tremendous evening, and, once again, hats off to Cafe Oto for carrying this off in such challenging times.
LINKS: Cafe Oto
Categories: Live review