With his third album as a bandleader, David Bixler, a veteran New York sideman, consolidates his growing reputation as an accomplished, urbane band leader and composer in his own right. Since 1999, Bixler has been the lead alto saxophonist of the Chico O'Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. (However, little of this element is detectable here.)
After O'Farrill passed away in 2001, his son Arturo took the reins as musical director of the orchestra. In the liner notes for Call It A Good Deal, the younger O'Farrill uses a nice bit of visual imagery to describe Bixler's music, comparing it to an Escher painting: "impossible angles, infinite possibilities, and yet always rational, clear and succinct."
Bixler brings a wealth of educational, cultural and professional background to the table. A faculty member at Montclair State University, he is a highly regarded educator with serious academic credentials. After earning his degree at Indiana University under the tutelage of David Baker, Bixler earned an NEA grant to study in New York with George Coleman.
During these early years in the Big Apple, he filled the lead alto seat in the Lionel Hampton Jazz Orchestra. Bixler continued to expand his musical horizons in the 1990s when he took up residence in Barcelona, Spain as a freelance jazz musician, teacher and clinician. This cross-cultural experience doubtless presented Bixler with a broader realm of musical possibilities, and traces of European jazz can be heard on Call It A Good Deal.
After returning to New York, Bixler began collaborating with trumpeter Scott Wendholt, guitarist John Hart, bassist Ugonna Okegwa and drummer Andy Watson. Released three years after his 2000 debut, Lost in Queens, Bixler's second release, Show Me The Justice, received national airplay and critical praise. The quintet shows the empathy and interplay that can only be developed over time.
"Angular" is an apt term for these seven Bixler compositions. Described by one critic as an "in-betweener," this isn't free jazz. However, its dissonant harmonics and rhythmic liberties situate it beyond the mainstream of hard bop orthodoxy or run-of-the-mill post bop.
The opening "Aiding And Abetting" sets the overall tone with an ostinato riff on guitar and bass. "Gemenlie" features a brief but tasty solo by Ugekwo, whose playing is marked by a clear, firm tone throughout the session. (This is enhanced somewhat by the relatively bright recording.) Hart takes over on "Scratch and Sniff the Jive," an aptly named tune given his behavior on it. Like Bixler, Hart may raise some eyebrows on this session by engaging in unexpected stylistics. But he acquits himself well and shows a willingness to stretch himself beyond his accustomed groovewhich is always a good thing for any jazz musician.
The angularity is balanced by two ballads, "Unraveled" and "He Cries Every Day," which nicely combine postmodern aesthetics and post bop lyricism.