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Alexander Hawkins is an improvising pianist whose main allegiance is to jazz, but whose playing includes a remarkable range of references from modernist composition to free improvisation. This is his second solo piano album, following Song Singular (Babel) in 2014. It features a programme of original compositions in which Hawkins plays – he says – ‘fewer notes than before, but better chosen’. He was in similar post-Bill Evans lyrical mode at last year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, but the pieces here are more challenging – more abrasive, less lyrical or straightforwardly swinging.

From the delicate filigree of ‘Tough Like Imagination’ to what sleeve-note writer Richard Williams calls the ‘two-handed avant- gospel figurations of “Congregational”’, this very diverse set of improvisations draws on material that's far from expected for jazz – though they do draw on a jazz-based propulsion. ‘Tumble Mono’ begins gently, as one of Hawkins’ very plangent creations, but gradually builds into a ferocious perpetual motion machine.

In all it’s a fascinating, individualistic take on jazz tradition, which somehow brings together the pianistic mainstream with free jazz and improv avantgardism. Hawkins has been influenced by numerous jazz pianists – Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor and Marilyn Crispell – but rarely sounds like any of them.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica


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