Alexander Hawkins / Roberto Ottaviano
(Cafe Oto, 20 January 2023; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)
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Acclaimed jazz pianist/composer, Alexander Hawkins, with master of the soprano saxophone, Roberto Ottaviano made for a great combination, an occasional duo nurtured over several years, in a programme sharing an appreciation of Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron. Ottaviano has referred to Hawkins as ‘Alexander … the great’, and it was obvious that the respect was mutual on this, their first UK performance.
Louis Moholo Moholo was the catalyst leading to Hawkins being invited to play with Ottaviano on his 2014 recording, ‘Forgotten Matches, the Worlds of Steve Lacy (1934-2004)’, celebrating Lacy’s music and that of Waldron. This was the first of three Ottoviano’s recordings to date on the Italian Dodicilune label, operating out of Lecce in Puglia, where Hawkins has been the featured pianist, exploring most recently the Mingus oeuvre. Ottaviano studied with Lacy over a six year period in the ’80s and he recorded an album with Waldron in 1996. Other mentors have included George Russell, Ran Blake and Luigi Nono, accounting for his formidable range.
Hawkins warmly introduced Ottaviano and title-checked their first three numbers, Lacy’s ‘Flakes’ and ‘Agenda’ and Waldron’s ‘What It Is’. After that, it was the music that spoke for itself!
Beautifully played, they constructed a flowing intellectual bridge between the organised complexity of the compositions and the improvisational flair which both musicians mustered with deceptive ease. Reading from scores, what might have been a straight-down-the-line jazz reading was rotated to tread that fine line between careful control, so as not to betray the roots of each composition, and emotionally expressive interpretation and improvisation.
Rich piano chords abounded, interspersed with demanding Tyner-esque runs. High-speed staccato attacks on the high notes were echoed in shrill saxophone outbursts. Hawkins delved in to the piano’s engine room prepared with deftly placed interventions to meet Ottaviano craftily causing the piano wires to to eerily resonate with his breath as he turned his entirely muted sax to face its open lid (see drawing above). Yet, underlying this anarchic cover it was the respect shown in the articulation of melody, tonal dexterity and a rare technical accomplishment that rooted the duo’s credentials as themes were passed back and forth and in synchronised passages to pay homage to the art of Lacy and Waldron.
THE SET LIST INCLUDED… (Courtesy of Alex Hawkins)
No More Tears
What It Is
The Seagulls of Kristiansund
And there was also a dedication to the late Jean-Jacques Avenel, bass player, who made the film ‘Steve Lacy; master of the soprano sax’
LINK: Dodicilune Catalogue