Album reviews

Alexander Hawkins Mirror Canon – ‘Break A Vase’

Alexander Hawkins Mirror Canon – Break A Vase

(Intakt. CD374 CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

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Mirror Canon is the extension of Alexander Hawkins‘ trio with drummer Stephen Davis and bassist Neil Charles into a sextet, with the addition of Otto Fischer‘s guitar, Shabaka Hutchings‘ woodwinds and Richard Olátúndé Baker playing a variety of percussion. The result is an album of contrasting moods and timbres, some pieces reflecting the background in improvisation common to all the musicians, others highlighting Hawkins’ delicate and thoughtful composition. Taking its name from a classical musical form, Break A Vase is indeed full of contrapuntal structures as different aspects of the band finely balance each other.

This is perhaps clearest on Generous Sounds. Fischer’s guitar plays a largely rhythmic role, with Hutchings’ stabbing tenor laying down an alternate beat. Olátúndé Baker’s percussion is active throughout, the talking drum conversing with  the other players. Hawkins’ hands seem to be playing two separate lines which weave in and out.

The title track, one of two short pieces for solo piano, take its name from a Derek Walcott’s Nobel acceptance speech (“Break a vase, and the love that re-assembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole”), has an Ellingtonian feel of wistfulness and longing. The other solo piano track, The Perfect Sound Would Like To Be Unique, could hardly be more different, slow, thunderous and dark, full of portent. That quickly gives way to Stamped Down, Or Shovelled, with driving kit drums and the melodic instruments playing intertwining riffs, whilst beneath, Olátúndé Baker’s percussion punctuates the other players. Shabaka Hutchings’ tenor solo floats above the guitar and bass lines.

The freer aspects of the record are shown on Domingada Open Air, Hutchings creating bird calls with his soprano over piano trills and rolling drums. Hutchings throughout seems to show a more thoughtful side to his playing than the sometimes strident but always powerful and compelling playing that has been a feature of his own bands. On Sun Rugged Billions, his gentle flute playing over piano and percussion is dreamlike and playful, almost like he’s running ahead and waiting for one’s ears to catch up.

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

LINK: Break a Vase is available from Presto Music

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