Click here to [close]

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Han Bennink, Steve Noble, Alexander Hawkins - 11.8.17 (Otoroku, 2018) *****

By Sammy Stein

Out on Otoroku 11.8.17 was recorded live at Café Oto, London. The first track Bennink-Hawkins has Han Bennink and Alexander Hawkins engaged in what at first sounds like a playground free for all. We have scales, we have polyrhythmic challenges and responses and we have, by the end, a seemingly effortless synergy where the two musicians seem to pre-empt the other before they play the notes, sometimes coming in with almost perfectly symmetrical timing. This is a track to listen and enjoy for its development and there is one gorgeous passage where Bennink simply crashes out a cymbal rhythm whilst Alexander Hawkins goes nuts – in a most controlled and musical manner – just what you need if you are ever find yourself wondering how improvised music works – here’s how!

This music grabs you hard and fast, frenetic episodes followed by laid back, almost silence-filled periods and there is such communication here, the flying energy is almost touchable. Alexander Hawkins makes the piano speak, sigh, shout, sing and the call and response references are here almost without the players being aware. For just over half and hour the two deliver completely engaging listening and there is a classical influenced section too with Hawkins masterfully incorporating Mengleberg-like and then Bach-like chordal progressions, before returning to his home base of improvisation, while Bennink reads him perfectly, ever controlling the percussive intonation and additions. There are so many changes and rhythmic alterations here and each time one of the musicians changes speed, tempo or reference, the other follows. Around the 18-20 minutes mark there are some wonderful changes and musical chases, which is just one of the reasons why this music is so listenable. It is about listening to each other, responding and engaging the listener – and it works. At times Bennink is ‘crash bang wallop’ and Alexander responds every time, giving an almost child-like competitive edge to some areas with a trace of humour and this also makes it easily referenceable and accessible. Other times, Bennink sets up deep, thrumming rhythms over which Hawkins improvises and extends his arms to include nearly the entire length of the keyboard at some point or other. Then, there is a bit of swing, with a (sort of) version of ‘Once in A While by Green/Edwards (I think) which is followed by enthusiastic applause before the pair return for a bit of improvised mayhem and enjoyment to finish the set. This is some of the most engaging and innovative playing I have heard for a long time. As the recording is live, there is some great banter and interaction as well.

Then to Bennink-Noble ( track 2). Introduced by Bennink with some jokes and gentle humour. The humour is just about all that can be described as gentle here. The incredible sound of Bennink and Noble fills the very essence of the air. This is noise, this is soundscapes, pictures created by the percussion talents of two of the most powerful forces in rhythmic escapades of today. Bennink delivers his characteristic heavy thrumming whilst Steve Noble plays catch up for a time before delivering his own leading rhythmic counter, which Bennink immediately throws back his way and so it goes on. Two drummers at the forefront of music – and it shows. At times the pair seem so in tune it sounds like a single, very intense drummer. Bennink then explains to the audience (and Steve) the intricacies of a drum roll – its difficulty and how it seems like a box of peas and a hailstorm (listen and you will understand). Noble duly delivers an extended roll and then we are off again, the noise coming in waves and rolls, beautifully controlled yet unplanned, unfettered and played with a freedom of spirit. An almost perfect storm is brewed by the two drummers playing together, apart, together, listening, together, apart and so on. Absolutely wonderful to listen to, the rhythms ebbing and flowing, changing, remaining, changing – you get the picture. It is hard to get across within the limitations imposed by narrative just how incredible the sound is – the loudness, the control and the generosity each players gives the other. Bennink has a habit of bringing out the best in himself at performances but also in others and here, he delivers in spades. Steve Noble is totally up for anything Bennink offers and then some. Two drummers, one aim, one total wonderful recording.