By all accounts, including his own, Bill Dixon is a very private and passionate man. On the record in an interview with Cadence's Bob Rusch several decades ago Dixon recounted a litany of misconceptions ascribed against him and in no uncertain terms stated his disdain for those unable or unwilling to accept his artistry on its own terms. In the intervening years it appears that the flumes of his uncompromising muse have if anything continued to brighten. He has weathered the insults and innuendo in his own inimitable way continuing to etch his mark on the music in boldly drawn pigments.
Dixon’s affections for dark and resonant sonorities are well documented in his recorded body of work. The framework of bass-register instruments whether brass, percussive or string has long been an integral component of the compositional and improvisatory aspects of his art. Recordings like Son of Sisyphus (both on Soul Note) reveled in subterranean sound structures. Berlin Abbozzi shares the same instrumentation as Dixon’s earlier Vade Mecum project, a pair of discs teaming him with the basses of William Parker and Barry Guy along with Oxley, but the architecture here is that of a very different sonic edifice. Largely free of jagged edges the tandem of Germans Bauer and Koch suggests far less overt tension in favor of an alloyed interplay. Oxley’s array of bowed drum surfaces so closely compliments Dixon’s ferrous smears that it’s difficult to imagine another drummer fitting as faultlessly into the framework.
The leader’s choice of flugelhorn, with its more expansive and rounded range contributes further to the feeling of his being at the base of some deep craggy trench blowing his brass through fathoms of inky black water. It’s an instantly recognizable tone shorn from equal parts solemnity and questing intellect and there is a sense of the limitless in his lines, as if his horn where an uncapped aperture into the vastness of some uncharted outer void. The two-part title piece is a trip through eerie sound orifices. Basses and drums percolate around Dixon releasing silvery harmonic bubbles from the depths. In the opening minutes of “Open Quiet/The Orange Bell” Dixon rises alone conjuring a wave of echo-laden slurs that sound looped by electronic colorations. Later, brassy foghorn blasts erupt over a bed of bowed basses and skittering percussion. Phantasmagoric shapes drift across the quartet’s sound palette creating a hypnogogic effect of dream-like dimensions. Toward the close Dixon drops out leaving the bassists and Oxley to find the way alone through the wilderness. It’s a test they accept wielding bows and sticks through a thicket of harmonic convergences before linking up again with Dixon on his circuitous return from the hinterlands.
This is music that deftly dodges codification, dealing in open-ended ambiguities rather than easily digestible certainties. Dixon continues to confound and challenge, remaining uncompromising both in his music and his beliefs. The results of his impregnable resolve are recordings such as this that reward exploration on their own terms. A sad side note that contributes to the austerity of the date is the fact that Koch died shortly after its release leaving it as a fitting requiem of his passing.
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Personnel: Bill Dixon- flugelhorn; Mattias Bauer- double bass; Tony Oxley- drums; Klaus Koch- double bass. Recorded: November 8, 1999, Berlin.