Blog

The Guardian – 29 November 2016

Constantly surprising and superbly executed jazz

John Fordham

“A soft groove from drummer Steve Davis introduced a steadily striding vocal theme, from Mitchener a torrent of bird-sounds and pugnacious exclamations, a graceful drift through the seductive poetry of 13th-century Persian mystic Rumi, and a scintillating flat-out vocal inventory of life’s detritus (…) over a catchy bassline. It was constantly surprising and superbly executed cutting-edge music built on winningly familiar foundations.”

★★★★☆

Versatile British jazz pianist Alexander Hawkins and the zestfully ingenious crossover vocalist Elaine Mitchener have been forging relationships between classically drilled techniques and improv’s leaps into the dark since 2015. This week, in Jez Nelson’s monthly new-jazz showcase at the Cockpit theatre, the two upped their conversation to a four-way one in a new and outstanding quartet.

The three-set show began with a Robert Glasper-influenced opener from promising young Trinity Laban pianist James Beckwith, with bassist Joe Downard and the meticulously propulsive Ben Brown on drums. Double-bass virtuoso Michael Janisch followed with a rare and dramatic unaccompanied exposition of percussive detonations, cello-like grace and huge-toned pizzicato lines.

Hawkins and Mitchener opened with You Thrill Me, a favourite vehicle for 60s experimental singer Patty Waters, unfolded by Mitchener in a cool jazz-ballad murmur, but soon vaulting into precisely stuttery chatter and long pure tones, while Hawkins sustained a free-jazzy piano stream, and powerful bassist Neil Charles a mix of pizzicato throbs and growling bowed sounds. A soft groove from drummer Steve Davis introduced a steadily striding vocal theme, from Mitchener a torrent of bird-sounds and pugnacious exclamations, a graceful drift through the seductive poetry of 13th-century Persian mystic Rumi, and a scintillating flat-out vocal inventory of life’s detritus (“Ticket stubs, shoes that don’t fit, kitchen utensils you have two of”) over a catchy bassline. It was constantly surprising and superbly executed cutting-edge music built on winningly familiar foundations.

6 February 2017

The Times – 19 December 2016