A visage of joyousness fills this album cover. Cellist Akua Dixon, with back arched and eyes closed, can't contain herself. A knowing smile washes over her face as she bathes in the light with cello in hand. It's a picture that perfectly illustrates the artist's place in the moment: Dixon has reached a point of supreme confidence, where percipience permeates her every move and guides her every turn. She doesn't miss a step on Akua's Dance.
This third album from Dixon is a step above and away from its predecessorAkua Dixon (Self Produced, 2015), her string-centric sophomore date. That outing had its bright moments, but it seemed rudderless at times. This one doesn't have that problem. Dixon's directional sense is practically flawless here. She knows just where she wants to go and she plots out the most pleasing routes for travel. It would seem the third time really is the charm.
The instrumentation here has a lot to do with the heightened jazz sensibility of the project. Rather than return to strings-heavy territory, Dixon places herself within or atop two different rhythm sections, each of which is grounded by drummer Victor Lewis. Seven of the tracks give her the opportunity to trip the light fantastic with Lewis, guitarist Freddie Bryant, and bassist Kenny Davis. Together they inhabit an Afro-Brazilian space on "I Dream A Dream," swing cheerily along on "Dizzy's Smile," mix African and Argentine sensibilities on the tango-tinged title track, and deliver a sensitive and moving rendition of Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away" with Dixon stepping forward as vocalist. Not enough variety for you? Then add a cover of smooth songstress Sade's "The Sweetest Taboo," a solemn trip through "I'm Gonna Tell God All Of My Troubles," and the soulful "Don't Stop." That should do the trick.
The other rhythm section pairs the queen of jazz cello with fellow royaltyLewis, guitarist Russell Malone, and bassist Ron Carter. Those four act as weavers of dreams on "If My Heart Could Speak To You," waltz in flowing fashion on "Orion's Gait," and leverage the music's motherland on "Afrika! Afrika!," a weighty and wondrous arco sermon that eventually takes flight. That quartet is a grouping that'll naturally gain more attention, what with the marquee names, but both rhythm sections do right by Dixon. And she, of course, delivers on every track, whether working with her cello, standing out as singer, or taking to the baritone violin. Her work shines bright throughout Akua's Dance.
I Dream A Dream; Dizzy's Smile; If My Heart Could Speak To You; Orion's Gait; Akua's Dance; Throw It Away; Afrika! Afrika!; The Sweetest Taboo; I'm Gonna Tell God All Of My Troubles; Don't Stop.
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