Album review

Alexander Hawkins Trio – ‘Carnival Celestial’

Alexander Hawkins TrioCarnival Celestial

(Intakt CD 398. Album review by Jon Turney)

There are 57 varieties of piano trio, and a fair subset of them are represented on this session. Prolific composer and keyboard player Alexander Hawkins seems to work mainly in Europe these days, with a host of collaborators, touching base in the UK at the Vortex or Cafe Oto only occasionally. This, his second trio album on Intakt, is similarly wide-ranging.

The opener, Rapture, lays out some ingredients – a light backwash, as of rushing air, yields to synthesiser bleeps mixing in drums and cymbals, the effect textural rather than rhythmic. The piano enters after three minutes with simple figures, which are delicately elaborated for awhile, then fade away.

If this is Rapture, it is a pretty low-key version, but that’s in keeping with the exploratory feel that pervades the recording. Hawkins is adept at writing that delineates a middle ground between freedom and form. Some tracks lay down a framework for improvisation – a synth or piano figure that recurs, a regular pattern established by bass and drums (long-term colleagues Neil Charles and Stephen Davis, respectively). Others are more open in all departments, with the references in the titles mostly hinted at rather than declared outright in the actual music.

Thus, the title track is lively enough, but not carnivalesque in any obvious way – no echoes of Sonny Rollins here. Sarabande Celestial may have some elements of the dance, but they are hard for this listener to discern. Canon Celestial does have canonical features, but the repetitions move subtly out of phase, giving the piece an insinuating quality which is simultaneously slightly unsettling.

The playing from all three has that close attentiveness that creates music where players are heard moving together rather than hearing-then-responding – the bassist’s role here is more in the background; the drumming, delicately detailed but with a quiet heat, is a delight throughout. Hawkins is attractively hesitant at times, assertive at others, and small nods to earlier players, Monk most noticeably, punctuate his sometimes abstract keyboard excursions. One or two of the synthesiser-heavy tracks come over as more private ruminations, but are pleasant to share if you are in the mood.

And, to be clear, there are pieces which are more solidly in more expected “piano trio” territory – Puzzle Canon is one it’s fun to imagine, say, Jason Moran taking on. Counterpoint Celestial leads gradually up to an unrestrained piano romp that is the more welcome for coming almost at the end of the album, before the set ends with another synthesiser-based piece that partially reflects the opening. It’s a typically thoughtful piece of programming on a notably thoughtful session.

LINK: Alexander Hawkins artist page at Intakt Records

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