The Guardian – 9 December 2015
Yarde/Hawkins/Mitchener review – sonic richness and astonishing songs
“These were remarkable reinventions by two fearless originals, but they were devoted to illuminating the emotional cores of timeless old songs.”
Jason Yarde’s hardware-assisted solo set was graceful and impetuous, while Alexander Hawkins and Elaine Mitchener movingly reworked the great American songbook
An adventurous double bill at the Vortex offered two unusual angles on contemporary jazz-making this week. Jason Yarde, the versatile saxophonist, composer, bandleader and producer, featured his rarely aired Blue Box Diaries project, a remarkable solo performance in which he builds dense harmonies and rich orchestral textures on the fly with the aid of two saxes, a laptop and an array of effects pedals. The second half featured powerful improvising pianist and composer Alexander Hawkins and classically trained singer Elaine Mitchener, unflinchingly and often very movingly reworking the great American songbook from 21st-century jazz and contemporary classical perspectives.
Yarde opened the evening with a gracefully swooping soprano sax figure, but soon kicked in a deeper, shadowing line in unison, like a softly played trombone. Accelerating the soprano solo in impetuous double-tempo sprints, he established a sinister electronic undertow beneath, like a dog growling in a gale. On alto saxophone, Yarde set the hardware shadowing him like a two-sax cool school jazz band of an earlier era, and closed the set with an infectious township jazz vamp, bringing the gadgets chiming in like a big band and setting the audience stamping on the beat. It was a set occasionally overwhelmed by its rich sonic possibilities, but at its most limpidly lyrical it was irresistible.
Hawkins and Mitchener began with an astonishing version of You Thrill Me. In a quivering whisper, Mitchener curled the soft threads of the melody through Hawkins’s sternly solemn chords, and dropped to an almost inaudible purr amid the pianist’s contrastingly flinty rebuffs. A delicate piano intro turned into a thunder of crisscrossing piano lines, through which Mitchener drifted soulfully into I Fall in Love Too Easily, eventually erupting into abrasive snarls as if furious at her own vulnerabilities. She delivered My Ship straighter, steering through the stormy seas of her partner’s accompaniment. These were remarkable reinventions by two fearless originals, but they were devoted to illuminating the emotional cores of timeless old songs.