Bill Dixon’s latest recording, his first on FMP, is an intimate club date well captured in November 1999. The instrumentation of trumpet, two basses and drums, is one which has been used to good effect on previous Dixon recordings such as November 1981 and the two volumes of Vade Mecum, both on Soul Note. This group occupies a similar sonic territory although there are differences this time out. Notably the pieces are longer – the 60 minute plus title piece being the longest track that Dixon has so far issued. This makes the music seem more discursive, with space for bass duets and bass and drum solos, although no less intense for that. Also new is the striking use Dixon makes of echo and reverb to treat his trumpet playing, although this was a feature to a lesser extent on the Papyrus sessions. Listen to the opening of ‘Acrolithes’ where breath sounds through the trumpet are treated with echo, before metamorphosing into growling foghorn notes fading into the darkness.
Dixon’s work is unashamedly abstract, very much of itself and unlike the work of anyone else. The pieces all feature the trumpet floating above the shifting, restless rhythmic quilt laid down by the bassists and drummer. The power of Dixon’s conception is such that his trumpet acts as the unifying force holding together these disparate elements. His extemporised motifs unfold slowly with the inexorableness of shifting tectonic plates. But it is in the detail of the interactions between the musicians that the beauty of this music lies for me, like the muted trumpet echoed by a stroke of the bow on bass at 1’ 30” of ‘Currents’ or the re-entry of the trumpet above the loose bass/drum interplay, like a comet flashing in the night sky, at 10’ 30” in the same piece. Or to take another example, the end of ‘Open Quiet/The Orange Bell’ where a largely arco bass duet is joined by Oxley’s bowed cymbals and then distant trumpet, which gradually moves into the foreground playing muted, elegiac long tones.
The bass-playing of Koch and Bauer may be less virtuoso than William Parker and Barry Guy on the Vade Mecum sessions, but they are still responsible for many fine moments of interplay, such as the bass drone contrasting with the high register arco and pizzicato playing on ‘Open Quiet/The Orange Bell’. They are not afraid to both play in the same tonal area laying down a dense matrix of sound. Oxley’s playing is full of incandescent detail and miniaturist gesture, at times sounding like an accident in a sheet metal factory, then ticking nervously, insistently, urgently on cymbals. His solo on ‘Open Quiet/The Orange Bell’ is wonderful, full of space with the natural decay bringing to mind the echoing trumpet elsewhere.
This is an excellent disc easily recommended to anyone willing to immerse themselves in Bill Dixon’s sound world.
For more information about Bill Dixon, visit his website at http://www.sover.net/~wrdixon/