Alexander Hawkins

April 8, 2021

Togetherness Music
Intakt CD 361

Amplification of concepts that British pianist Alexander Hawkins has exhibited in smaller ensembles with the likes of Louis Moholo-Moholo and Evan Parker, Togetherness Music is a major foray into orchestral compositions and arrangements, Although this suite is through-composed for 16 musicians including a stand-alone string quintet and conductor, the sequences include extended improvisations from Parker, trumpeter Percy Pursglove, percussionist Mark Sanders and others.

Warm harmonies from the concentrated strings echo and swell along with orchestral interludes, as gentling motifs are interspaced among the spikier parts. But there’s never a feeling that the sections expanded with additional instruments are mere accompaniment. There are also instances throughout the tracks that vibrations and sul ponticello stretches from the strings or the more conventional orchestral instruments like flutes contribute broken octave expansions or even juddering near abstract scrapes, shatters or unusual flutters. Besides that though, each soloist’s contribution stands out. On “Leaving the Classroom of a Beloved Teacher” for instance, Hawkins uses energetic clips and rebounds to spin out theme variations as trumpet smears, drum pops and low-pitched strings hunt and peck textures from sharp corners of the tune until, it’s wrapped up with glissandi and more keyboard clinks. Sanders shins throughout, subtly maintaining rhythmic sophistication through a combination of odd sound such as bolo-bat-like pops and gong reverberations plus expressive cymbal clanks and drum rumbles. Sounding as if he’s playing a piccolo trumpet, Pursglove’s brassy smears illuminate a several motifs, squealing against drum pitter patter on “Sea No Shore” and bringing jaunty rural banda-like peeps to a round robin arrangement with piano, soprano saxophone and percussion on the middle section of the concluding “Optimism of the Will”.

Because of his deft and affecting contributions on soprano saxophone to the introductory “Indistinguishable from Magic” and the final track, Parker is the featured soloists, though still first among equals. His matchless circular breathing showpiece at the top extends into upper partials, reflux squalls and arabesques. It exposes the complex ecosystem of individual tones as well as their roots. Then in the suite’s final minutes, following orchestral sways, pounding piano emphasis and heavily breathed reed growls, the narrative narrows to single keyboard clips and singular reed peeps, completing the program while referring back to the beginning.

With canny additions from hand-picked instrumentalists, Hawkins has created an arresting project which confirms his skills as composer and orchestrator as well as a meaningful pianist.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Indistinguishable from Magic 2. Sea No Shore 3. Ensemble Equals Together 4. Leaving the Classroom of a Beloved Teacher 5. Ecstatic Baobabs 6. Optimism of the Will

Personnel: Percy Pursglove (trumpet); Evan Parker (soprano saxophone); Rachel Musson (flute, tenor saxophone); James Arben (flute, bass clarinet); Alexander Hawkins (piano); Benedict Taylor (viola); Hannah Marshall (cello); Neil Charles (bass); Mark Sanders (drums, percussion); Matthew Wright (electronics);The Riot Ensemble: Mandhira de Saram, Marie Schreer (violin); Stephen Upshaw (viola); Louise McMonagle (cello); Marianne Schofield (bass); Aaron Holloway-Nahum (conductor)