Togetherness Music is a new peak of achievement from Alexander Hawkins

I've compared Alexander Hawkins to Vijay Iyer in the past and really I can't think of anyone else who could sensibly be mentioned in the same breath. Yes, both are pianists, but come from very different backgrounds. More to the point both reimagine …

Published: 5 Jan 2021. Updated: 9 months.

I've compared Alexander Hawkins to Vijay Iyer in the past and really I can't think of anyone else who could sensibly be mentioned in the same breath. Yes, both are pianists, but come from very different backgrounds. More to the point both reimagine free-jazz, a style that has remained quite stagnant for many years since the first innovations of giants like Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley established century changing sounds for the first time. Hawkins like Iyer has also managed to create his own distinctive language and continues to display a restless ingenuity to communicate it year in year out. Last we heard from him was as recently as December in a fine live trio recording Room to Dream Trio with Neil Charles and Steve Davis who like Hawkins toured with Anthony Braxton this time last year. Turning 40 later in 2021 Hawkins through Intakt records now releases Togetherness Music on 15 January to mark the milestone ahead. He has certainly packed a whole lot of music into the last decade since first emerging on the international scene and this new six-movement work seems like a new peak of achievement catapulting him to still new interstellar regions. Described as''quasi-orchestral'' the work involves 16 musicians, Charles to Hawkins' side once again and the personnel also features room for adventurous contemporary-classical group the Riot Ensemble and most ear catchingly of all the sound of saxophone icon Evan Parker at its beating heart. Togetherness Music perhaps shares a certain affinity with the larger ensemble tracks of Unit[e] from 2017. The new work certainly ranks as one of Hawkins' most ambitious works to date and underlines just what a significant figure among improvisers globally the English player already is.

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Becca Stevens and Elan Mehler, Pallet on Your Floor

You may well stop dead in your tracks when you first hear 'Elvis Presley Blues'. Actually that might happen more than a few times on Pallet On Your Floor. Singer Becca Stevens has a still, arresting, manner, sort of folky, sort of moodily mystic. …

Published: 5 Jan 2021. Updated: 9 months.

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You may well stop dead in your tracks when you first hear 'Elvis Presley Blues'. Actually that might happen more than a few times on Pallet On Your Floor. Singer Becca Stevens has a still, arresting, manner, sort of folky, sort of moodily mystic. Not to be outdone pianist Elan Mehler adds plenty of flavour and as it turns out given a few detours and consistently interesting choice of chords his role is more than that of passive accompanist. When he breaks loose you'll soon realise the considerable study of touch he brings to the record, a few shadows here and there nudging us into the heart of any given song.

There is a certain strict intensity about Pallet On Your Floor that rather than coming across clinical is more about focus and rigour. Stevens you might know for her work with Brad Mehldau (she guested on Finding Gabriel a couple of years back for instance) excels herself on this fine record, released just a few weeks ago.

Albums like Mehler's 2014 solo piano album Early Sunday Morning indicate how suited he is to pared back settings and half a dozen years or so on while he's now better known for his collector's label the audiophile-inclined Newvelle clearly still keeps his considerable piano chops up and seems a natural as a singer's accompanist.

The choice of some jazz standards ('But Beautiful,' 'Our Love is Here to Stay') and plenty of jazz chords besides, this record however comes over as more like unmoored-by-genre carefully dusted down historical concert music. That does not stop it working. There are lots of highlights. I was taken for example by a very uncorny version of the lovely Peter De Rose melody 'Deep Purple' that Paul Whiteman premiered as an instrumental in 1934 (later, with words added by Mitchell Parish, the song inspired, as unlikely as it may seem, the naming of heavy metal pioneers Deep Purple). An album some might see as musical archaeology perhaps but to its infinite credit not one drenched at all in any kind of cloying nostalgia. SG

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