Prolific bandleader Rob Mazurek follows his 2007 Exploding Star Orchestra debut, We Are All From Somewhere Else, with this landmark vehicle for the legendary yet elusive Bill Dixon. Bill Dixon With Exploding Star Orchestra is a sprawling meeting of minds, as Dixon fronts a thirteen-piece ensemble on a set designed especially for him. At the height of his expressive powers, Dixon's signature trumpet tones are scrawled all over the album's lengthy suites with masterful artistry.
"Entrances/One" and "Entrances/Two," both written and arranged with spontaneous conducting by Dixon, follow similar paths while offering distinctive experiences. Instruments are constantly in flux, overlapping and blending effectively. A dual-drummer beat with Afro-Latin flair kicks things off, as each musician enters tentatively before the full band swirls in polyphonic, multidirectional interplay. Jeff Parker's guitar creates conversational counterpoint to Dixon's blurred and distorted trumpet smears, while Matt Bauder's sax lifts the ensemble with a commanding presence.
Crafting a pensive feel as the band temporarily subsides, Dixon and Mazurek duet in rubato time over a sheen of heavy reverb and ambient textures. The music gradually dissolves, leaving the Orchestra to operate subtly with swelling whole notes and soft cymbal washes. After dwelling in this calm yet mysterious aura, the sounds linger and fade like midnight fog.
The 24-minute "Constellation for Innerlight Projections (For Bill Dixon)" is Mazurek's multi-section dedication, wherein the musicians follow guest Damon Locks' spoken narrative. The verbal and musical language of the piece touches on metaphysical realms by equating notes of the scales to correlating astrological components.
Cued by Locks' recitation, the Orchestra explodes in a manner recalling John Coltrane's Ascension (Impulse!, 1965): dissonant shards of horn blasts and chaotic harmonic upheaval. Just as quickly, the ensemble lowers its dynamics and Dixon enters magisterially. Each musician articulately takes their turn in repeating the trumpeter's fractured phrases in altered forms, creating a splintered collage effect.
The Orchestra proceeds from one movement to the next with classical precision, shifting gears with abrupt dynamic punctuations as well as carefully considered alterations. Dixon often appears at the forefront with stuttering, effects-laden flurries of sound, alternating with fractured big-band riffs, minimalist exchanges, march-like cadences and periods of hushed stillness.
A luxurious melody enters at one point, with vibraphone and timpani outlining a circular rhythm. The horns swell in descending, bird-like tangents behind Nicole Mitchell's striking flute, soon joined by Dixon and Mazurek. The three co-soloists float around each other with sweet, longing sighs, and eventually build up to a full-bore orchestral climax that blares to a dead stop.
Dixon appears again, ghostly but authoritative. His final solo of the piece is stunning and uncanny, with deep intonations delving into bass frequencies as if in a subterranean echo chamber.
Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra explores many moods over the course of each kaleidoscopic piece. It may take patience and close listening to fully reveal its rewards, but the results of Dixon and Mazurek's mutual admiration society are well worth a serious investigation.
Personnel: Bill Dixon: trumpet, composer; Rob Mazurek: cornet, composer; Nicole Mitchell: flute; Matt Bauder: bass clarinet, tenor saxophone; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Josh Berman: cornet; Jeff Parker: guitar; Jim Baker: piano; Jason Adesewicz: vibraphone, tubular bells; Matthew Lux: bass guitar; Jason Ajemian: double-bass; Mike Reed: drums, timpani; John Herndon: drums; Damon Locks: voice (2).