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Cellist Akua Dixon has been at it for decades: She's performed with jazz royalty like Duke Ellington, penned arrangements for non-jazz giants like Lauryn Hill and Aretha Franklin, and recorded with everybody from trumpet titan Dizzy Gillespie to trombonist Steve Turre to David Byrne, the beyond-category former frontman of the Talking Heads. Unfortunately, all of that support work has given Dixon little time to focus on putting music out under her own name. Akua Dixon, believe it or not, is only her second album.
This project finds Dixon working through her own arrangements of classics with a string quartet and some notable guests, including bassist Kenny Davis and violinists Regina Carter and the late John Blake, Jr. The majority of the music they make is enthralling. "A Gozar Con Mi Combo" is an absolute joy to behold, "Moon River" sparkles with life, and "Libertango" charms the ears from the start. Then there's the intense build and forward thrust of Charles Mingus' "Haitian Fight Song," a number that's bolstered by Davis' bass, enlivened by Blake's violin, and driven by Dixon's songuest drummer Orion Turre; a soulful look at Ellington via "Freedom"; and an alluring "Besame Mucho" that shines a light on the core players on this project.
On occasion, the music seems to sag a bit, losing focus along the way ("Alone Together") or coming off as a bit aimless from the start ("It Never Entered My Mind"), but these types of issues are few. Dixon's talents are many and varied, and it's wonderful to see her putting herself first after so much time working in the background. With the release of her debutMoving On (Self Produced, 2012)and this follow-up, Dixon is finally getting the attention she deserves.
Haitian Fight Song; Alone Together; Freedom; It Never Entered My Mind; A Gozar Con Mi Combo; Moon River; Libertango; Lush Life; Besame Mucho; Poinciana.