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Bill Dixon: Bill Dixon: Tapestries for Small Orchestra

Nic Jones By

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Bill Dixon
Tapestries For Small Orchestra
Firehouse 12
2007

When this double-CD/single-DVD set hits the market in November 2009, trumpeter Bill Dixon will be 84 years old. In an ideal world—and on the basis of this release that's the world Dixon inhabits—age wouldn't be an issue. His work is that of a questing spirit not in thrall to the ageing process. Dixon's life and music were celebrated at the Vision Festival in 2007, but both are still in a state of evolution and progress.

The ensemble assembled here deserves all the plaudits it should receive. Collectively it is alert to every nuance of Dixon's writing, and whilst that ought to be taken for granted the real distinction lies in the fact that this is music in which the role of the soloist is negated to the point of irrelevance. The ensemble is the key and the very colors inherent in Dixon's writing are dependent upon the depth of the ensemble's empathy.

The point is perhaps best made on "Tapestries" itself, where Michel Cote's contrabass clarinet stalks the shadows like something ambiguously malignant whilst Warren Smith's vibes allude to lighter vistas. A solemn brass chorale maps the territory between these two unassuming extremes, and in so doing captures the depth of Dixon's writing. In the midst of some harrowed procession the concession of light is welcome—intimation as it is of lively intelligence and the necessity of moving forward regardless of how ill-defined the ultimate destination might be.

Dixon might well have given up on rhetoric or it could be that he's just redefining how rhetorical points can be made. If it's the latter then there's a level of profundity in "Phrygian II" which might leave the listener wondering in the best way. On drums, Smith makes a quasi-rhetorical case for momentum which is profoundly at odds with the ensemble writing. The resulting tension is not of the variety that needs release simply because it's generated by less recognised means. The work of the brass section is almost glacial by comparison, although as the piece progresses an element of rapprochement comes into the reckoning. In concerning himself primarily with the ensemble and the effects it's capable of producing, it's clear that Dixon is concerned with a level of profundity that's of real substance.

All of which throws "Adagio: Slow Mauve Scribblings" into a measure of stark relief. Such is the instrumental balance of the ensemble that it is perhaps inevitable that the brass again catches the attention, though it's clear that the resulting work is not beholden to any acknowledged trope of virtuosity. Indeed the key term here might be atmosphere, just as long as all notions of the ambient are disregarded. Momentum is again suspended, but it's the means by which it's not achieved that's most intriguing. In an instance that's by no means typical of Dixon, the key might equally lie in the title itself. In fashioning what is in essence quite minimal music, he has brought to bear new methods of paring down, of rendering the scribblings substantial.

The accompanying DVD hits just the right pitch too. It consists of rehearsal footage together with informal discussion between the musicians, and the viewer gets just the right level of insight into the creative processes at work (such is the degree of interaction here that the plural really does apply). In unassumingly putting forward the case for the composer, Dixon by default throws the spotlight onto the musicians, so crucial is their role in taking the notes from the page and breathing life into them.


Tracks: CD1: Motorcycle '66: Reflections And Ruminations; Slivers: Sand Dance For Sophia; Phrygian II; Adagio: Slow Mauve Scribblings. CD2: Allusions; Tapestries; Durations Of Permanence; Innocenenza. DVD: Bill Dixon: Going to the Centre.

Personnel: Bill Dixon: trumpet, electronics; Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn, bass trumpet, piccolo trumpet; Graham Haynes: cornet, flugelhorn, electronics; Stephen Haynes: trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn; Rob Mazurek: cornet, electronics; Michel Conte: contrabass clarinet, bass clarinet; Glynis Loman: cello; Ken Filiano: bass, electronics; Warren Smith: vibes; marimba, drums, tympani, gongs.


Title: Bill Dixon: Tapestries for Small Orchestra | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Firehouse 12 Records

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