Recommended: Alexander Hawkins Ensemble – “Step Wide, Step Deep”


Alexander Hawkins - "Step Wide Step Deep"No matter how furtively Alexander Hawkins disassembles the tunes on Step Wide, Step Deep and scatters them in seemingly haphazard patterns, out from the chaos emerges coherent streaks of blues and fragments of earlier jazz forms.  It’s the kind of thing that made the avant-garde music of Rahsaan Roland Kirk so fascinating and embraceable, and the effect is no less profound on Hawkins’ latest project.

Yes, the album introduces itself with a ramshackle state of agitation, the kind of sound that could only exist in the here-and-now, but then opening track “Step Wide, Step Deep/Space of Time Danced Thru” enters a hazy jazz-rock fusion that propels itself forward with something that flirts with swing as it skips speedily along.  The electric guitar of Otto Fischer provides the color to a song that anchors itself to the bass-drum duo of Neil Charles and Tom Skinner at the song’s crux.

Intriguingly, the brief aside of “Forgiven Words Only Once” behaves as a deconstruction of the album’s opening track… a tune that behaved in much the same way.  The pattern of 1) Break apart, 2) Break down, 3) Repeat is a nifty plot line to follow.

The peep and mewls that open “MO (-Ittoqqortoormiit)” eventually rise up to growl and a roar, whereas “Listen/Glow” evolves from a flickering beam of light into a firestorm.  In each instance, the violin of Dylan Bates is the lynchpin of the development.

It’s almost shocking to hear the change from the dissonance and volatility of the two previous tracks to the melodic ease of “Advice.”  A down-home blues expression, Bates’ violin is gonna draw (and earn) the most attention, but it’s Hawkins repeated phrasings that give the song its soul.

The album returns to form with “Assemble/Melancholy,” a tune that barely holds together at the seams, and just when it appears the center will no longer hold, Shabaka Hutchings‘ clarinet pulls the song together and carries it home with a tuneful passage.

The album ends with the hypnotic “Baobab Constellation.”  It goes a long way toward illustrating that the ensemble’s talent at interweaving their disparate voices isn’t reliant on the attainment of great speeds or force.  The drifting tune carries the album to a beautiful, melancholy close.

A terrifically exciting album.

Your album personnel:  Alexander Hawkins (piano), Otto Fischer (electric guitar), Shabaka Hutchings (clarinet, bass clarinet), Dylan Bates (violin), Tom Skinner (drums, percussion) and Neil Charles (double bass).

Released on Babel Label.

Jazz from the Oxford, England scene.

Available at:  Bandcamp | eMusic | Amazon CD/MP3


Worth noting that Hawkins also released a solo piano album in 2014, titled Song Singular.  I didn’t find it nearly as compelling as Step Wide, Step Deep, but it is a neat opportunity to compare and contrast the two efforts side-by-side.

Go ahead and check the album out (and purchase it if you like) on the Bandcamp page —> LINK.