Alexander Hawkins
Song Singular
Babel ****

There has been no shortage of landmark new solo piano albums this year, with Aaron Parks’ Arborescence and Marc Cary’s For the Love of Abbey just two that immediately spring to mind, and not to forget reissues as well: Keith Jarrett’s Concerts: Bregenz/München, and Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ancient Africa at the top of my own list. Song Singular can hold its head high in this stellar company, the title, Hawkins has remarked recently, relates to the name of a so-far unrecorded trio composition. And that sense of the bigger compositional picture is present here even if like a fashionable host the title track has stayed away from the party. Song Singular is released alongside his new Ensemble album Step Wide, Step Deep and is a digital download album (also available in the physical CD format) there’s little in terms of additional background detail about the album although Song Singular was recorded in July 2012 by Alex Bonney, who’s about to go into the studio at Real World to record Cloudmakers’ latest album. Mostly Hawkins’ own compositions, there is also the inclusion of a brief take on Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Take the A Train’, all building block harmony and shifting left-hand bass lines, at just under three minutes long. Throughout there are quite powerful sections, lots of Cecil Taylor-like sound and fury, especially early in the record, and on ‘Joists, Distilled’, for instance, a sense of independent story telling at work, one tale for each hand in daring explorations reaching a surprisingly gentle conclusion when the dissonances somehow resolve. Hawkins’ melodic sense is very different to any of the solo albums mentioned above and this record can probably be listened to instructively alongside Vijay Iyer's 2010 album Solo. In other settings, for instance when Hawkins plays organ with Decoy, he will more openly reference Sun Ra, but not so much here although Ra is a big influence on him among the mix of disparate influences Hawkins has distilled into his own blend. Ultimately Song Singular rethinks the past with a very modern ear as for instance on ‘Stillness from 37,000 ft’ it’s as if he’s reimagining Thelonious Monk (and again briefly on the expansive ‘Distances Between Points’), or Duke Ellington by sleight of hand on 'Advice' with its cooing ‘Creole Love Call’-like quality. A smart and stimulating album. SG

Updated at 1030 (26/11) to reflect the fact that Song Singular (and Step Wide, Step Deep) are also available in the physical CD format.