December 6, 2015
Alexander Hawkins Music AH 1001
Putting his own stamp on the traditional Jazz piano trio format is London’s Alexander Hawkins, already known for his work in groups featuring Taylor Ho Bynum and Louis Moholo-Moholo. Reacting against the studied circumspection of too literal followers of Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and the like, Hawkins’s eight compositions are supple and punchy but avoid superficial beats the way a sophisticated tailor eschews trendy ornamentation in bespoke creations.
As the title blatantly proclaims this is a group endeavor as well. Adaptable bassist Neil Charles is a former member of Empirical who also leads the Zed-U trio; while percussionist Tom Skinner is a member of Sons of Kemet and The Grip, both featuring tubaist Oren Marshall. While there is no brass-like bluster involved on Trio, together Charles and Skinner continued enough confident string pumps and authoritative rumbles to keep all tunes moving at respectable clips.
Pianistically Hawkins isn’t a lone experimenter like Nikola Tesla was with electricity, but a synthesizer, sort of the way Bill Gates dealt with computer operating systems. While completely himself, Hawkins’ familiarity with Jazz piano history is such that echoes of others appear in his playing. Instructively there are no sonic references to the Hall of Fame stylists, but inklings of others. The swelling maelstrom of atonal slides which match steamrolled ratamacues and cymbal snaps on “Sweet Duke” is reminiscent of how Duke Elllington took on Charles Mingus and Max Roach on Money Jungle. The squirmy, spunky theme which characterizes “Perhaps” could have escaped from Burton Greene’s song book. Hawkins makes it his own though by assiduously reaching his instrument’s lowest register, swiftly rebounding to carom cadenzas around like spilling marbles from a bag.
At the same time “One Tree Found” is a more-or-less straight Boppish line. Yet the three treat it in a mercurial manner, with jiggling rhythms, bent notes and emphasized beats so that it ends up being like a greeting card that unfolds to offer many surprises. “AHRA” saluting Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre avoids AACM-like-exoticism for processional drama that in parts evokes Muhal Richard Abrams at his most formal.
However, if there is a specter that haunts this European it’s that of Cecil Taylor. Certainly “Blue Notes for a Blue Note (Joy to You)” dedicated to Moholo-Moholo, who recorded with Taylor, includes the doubling back to logical asides and dynamic curves that the older pianist brings to his work, although the concentrated note torque later introduced to challenge drum slaloming is uniquely Hawkins. Additionally the pianist is as clued in to early Taylor as his later style. One slice of “Song Singular - Owl (friendly) – Canon” moves along with hard-handed stops. Still, the altered chord structure and melody fragments that the pianist and Charles work over confirm this is 2015 not 1955.
The remaining tunes, including one saluting Ho Bynum, are more Latinesque and episodic. With Skinner adding exotic percussion, knife-like rhythmic slashes from Charles, the three create melodies that balance cult allusions, café styling and cascading comping. Jazz piano trio music may be a durable monument, but Hawkins and company have categorically scrawled their own characteristic graffiti upon it.
Track Listing: 1. Sweet Duke 2. Song Singular - Owl (friendly) – Canon 3. One Tree Found 4. Perhaps 5 or 6 Different Colours 5. 40HB (for Taylor Ho Bynum) 6. AHRA 7. Baobabs + SGrA* 8. Blue Notes for a Blue Note (Joy to You)
Personnel: Alexander Hawkins (piano); Neil Charles (bass) and Tom Skinner (drums)