My ears are not accustomed to hearing cello as the lead instrument in an ensemble, and so Akua's Dance
by cellist and baritone violinist Akua Dixon
took some getting used to.
Dixon took quite a circuitous route to her third release: After graduating from New York's Fame
High School of the Performing Arts, then studying at the Manhattan School of Music, one of her first jobs was in the pit band at the world-famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, where she supported acts from Reverend James Cleveland to Barry White to James Brown
. From there, she stepped out her own: She founded her own string quartet, served as Director of New Music for The String Reunion (a 30-piece orchestra founded by violinist Noel Pointer
) and was a founding member of the Max Roach
Double Quartet. Akua's Dance
presents jazz concepts in classical sound. "The music moves forward from where I was to where I'm going," Dixon explains. "On this one, I'm out front with the rhythm section." Actually, she's "out in front" with two rhythm sections: She performs on baritone violin with her working quartet of bassist Kenny Davis
, drummer Victor Lewis
and guitarist Freddie Bryant
, whose playing shines throughout. Dixon switches to cello for tunes with Lewis, guitarist Russell Malone
(who also sounds wonderful alongside her) and bassist Ron Carter
, with whom Dixon first recorded more than four decades ago (on Archie Shepp
's The Cry of My People
[1972, Impulse!]). "I've never had a chance to work with Ron playing my music, so I reached out to him," she recalls. "If you don't ask, you don't receive."
Dixon's third release hits its stride upon "Orion's Gait" with Carter and Malone, a gently rocking sing-song waltz inspired by the walking pace of Dixon's son in which her cello sounds playfully, almost whimsically, affectionate. "Orion's Gait" turns into the melancholy sharp tango of Akua's Dance
, which the cellist describes as, "A cycle, mostly in seven, but with a couple of bars in six floating around" that dances on the Latin feel from Lewis' peppery percussion and Bryant's acoustic guitar solo. Akua's Dance
also transposes two covers into Dixon's unique voice. Sade
's quiet storm dancefloor hit "The Sweetest Taboo" proves most inspired, with Lewis tap-dancing the rhythm hand-in-hand with Dixon's smooth, flowing melody on baritone violin, delivering a rhythmic vibrancy and dynamism that other, more stately tunes often seem to want. Dixon delivers the lead vocal of "Throw It Away," decorated by guitarist Bryant and the rhythm section with sublime melodic lines and rhythms, strongly enough to make composer Abbey Lincoln
proud (Dixon played cello on Lincoln's 2003 Verve Records' set It's Me
"I Dream a Dream" and the title track are repurposed from Dixon's in-process opera about New Orleans' legendary 19th century voodoo queen Marie Laveau.
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.
Akua Dixon: baritone violin (1, 2, 5, 8-10); Freddie Bryant: guitar (1, 2, 5, 6, 8-10); Kenny Davis: bass (1, 2, 5, 6, 8-10)Victor Lewis: drums; Russell Malone: guitar (3, 4, 7); Ron Carter: bass (3, 4, 7).