Alexander Hawkins Ensemble
Step Wide, Step Deep
Babel ****
 
Now a six-piece Ensemble, opening in an Ellingtonian vein with Dylan Bates in Ray Nance mode to Hawkins’ Duke. Not quite what you’d expect given the free improv pedigree of the pair the latter style easily the main thrust of another excellent Hawkins release, to be listened to in tandem with Song Singular. The other four improvisers here are the ideas-driven ex-Zed U bassist Neil Charles, guitarist Otto Fischer (a figure of continuity who appeared on 2009’s No Now is So and previous Babel release All There, Ever Out), Sons of Kemet’s Shabaka Hutchings, and his bandmate Tom Skinner both of who played with Charles on the cult Zed U album Night Time on the Middle Passage. Later tracks of Step Wide..., for instance ‘Assemble/Melancholy’, belong in the episodic almost Cagian domain, although Hutchings’ interjections on this track somehow go some way to fuse the jazz and New Music strands. Serene on the inuitively-playful tongue-twisting Greenland-referencing third track before the stored heat of the cyclical pianism scorches into action, Hawkins transforming himself ultimately into the Derek Bailey of the piano.

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