CD review

Alexander Hawkins – ‘Togetherness Music (For Sixteen Musicians) featuring Evan Parker and the Riot Ensemble’

Alexander Hawkins – Togetherness Music (For Sixteen Musicians) featuring Evan Parker and the Riot Ensemble
(Intakt Records. CD review by Geoff Winston)

Togetherness Music (For Sixteen Musicians) opens with one of the most mesmerising opening sequences you could hope to hear, an other-worldly, multi-phonic Evan Parker solo extemporisation of eight minutes duration with gravelly electronic interventions and slippery glissandi from the combined strings amplifying the sense of untrammelled movement through space. Ultra-discreet processing by Matt Wright (electronics) in the final moments adds a mysterious ambiguity to the layers of Parker’s remarkable live playing.

This extended passage constitutes the first of the work’s six movements each of which has its own character and personality, mixing improvisation and scored composition in various combinations, including transcriptions of improvisations to add intriguing layers of complexity.

The roots of the work hark back to two major commissions, from Peggy Sutton for BBC Radio 3 and from Aaron Holloway-Nahum for the Riot Ensemble. Through reworkings and the genesis of further material Hawkins has, in this entirely live recording made in a single day, inspired a powerful musical statement, crossing genres to consolidate its spacious, yet granular, textures. More is to be read about the genesis of this album in my INTERVIEW with Alexander Hawkins.  Just incidentally, when asked if the sub-title For Sixteen Musicians was a nod to Steve Reich’s Music for Eighteen Musicians, Hawkins admitted that the coincidence had not occurred to him, even though he’d been present at performances of Reich’s piece!

Hawkins has picked his co-musicians judiciously. Percy Pursglove, Mark Sanders and Neil Charles each bring different sensibilities to key passages. Pursglove draws on the post-Miles explorations of Wadada Leo Smith and Kenny Wheeler’s elegance in his finely crafted phrasing, and his earthily breathed punctuations counter in raw fashion.

Hawkins’ piano comes to the fore in the third movement which opens with a gentle mesh of jungle chattering. The flutes of Rachel Musson and James Arben combine and strings effervesce to provide an intensifying cushion of sound in to which Parker ever so carefully insinuates a jazz-inflected presence. A sense of Messiaen’s music of the spheres pervades, overtaken by controlled, improvised chaos which prompts James Fei, in his sleeve notes, to evoke Ornette Coleman’s under-appreciated magnum opus, Skies of America.

The bluesy fourth movement, where Sanders and Charles, in nonchalant, rock-solid style, introduce the contradictions of discipline and anarchy associated with Mingus, is the vehicle for Hawkins’ contrapuntal interplay with the hefty walking bass, something of McCoy Tyner’s intensity coming through in his virtuosic runs.

Gentle tensions and a sense of the limitless firmament imbue further passages, with the majestic, mischievous strings of the Riot Ensemble converging and conversing, wheeling in to remote yet intimate spaces.

The work concludes with Charles and Sanders, in funky banter, ramping it up as Hawkins strides in and the whole ensemble takes on the drive of Miles 70s electric meets Weather Report, with Parker’s soprano tinted with touches of Wayne Shorter phrasing. The intense barrage dissolves leaving only Hawkins and Parker to weave a bright, spiky dialogue before they quietly tiptoe off the radar.

LINKS: Togetherness Music is available from Intakt Records

Interview with Alexander Hawkins on the making of Togetherness Music

Review of Alexander Hawkins and Evan Parker at the Vortex from 2016

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