Review: Alexander Hawkins & GIO Small Groups –GIOFest XIV, 27th November – CCA, Glasgow

The closing night of the Glasgow Improvised Orchestra (GIO) Festival is a joyous mix of musical disciplines across two hour-long sets with a selection of small groups formed from the rotating ranks of the GIO and guest pianist Alexander Hawkins.  Hawkins opens the night with a solo set, springing over piano keys and creating a melancholic tumble of notes that sets the tone for a night of wild free improv that careens across instruments and genres.

A set from Jer Reid and Una McGlone veers close to Black Sabbath with a pounding rhythmic finish, Daphne Oram award winner Maria Sappho manipulates a prepared piano in a heady flamenco across the stage. There are vibrations from Alex South on bass clarinet, shrieks of saxophone reeds, clatters of keys and a tribute to Stephen Sondheim that is all the more poignant for its unexpectedness. This is a group of musicians who so tangibly enjoy each other and the connections they make across their sometimes incongruous styles that it blooms out into the room, the sheer joy of community and spontaneous creation, the little sparks of interplay. It’s a room full of (cautious) hugs and shoulder pats, of people who know that they’ve shared something special. 

Nearly thirty musicians share the stage by the end of the night, each contributing to an ecstatic swirl of sounds that uplifts and laughs, that teeters on the edge of chaos and swells with heart. If experimental music can sometimes be a little cold, then this festival – and this group of musicians – are the antithesis; a communal creative experience of unconstrained delight.

Photo credit: Brian Hartley

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