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Bill Dixon Orchestra: Intents And Purposes

John Sharpe By

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At last Bill Dixon's almost mythical Intents And Purposes sees the light of day once again. The only sadness is that the trumpeter died in June 2010 before his monumental early masterpiece could resurface. Painstakingly transferred from the two-track masters, the disc is lovingly presented as a facsimile of the original LP with the album cover and liner notes duplicated and the CD, in an inner sleeve, sporting the RCA Victor label. Dixon is on record as saying that he would rather it never be reissued if it couldn't be done with the relevant amount of fidelity to the philosophy of its initiation, but he gave this project his personal encouragement and blessing.

The producer's notes state that there was nothing like it before 1966/67 and there has been nothing like it since. Not quite true. Mainly because in the years preceding his death, Dixon did have the opportunities to rehearse and chronicle other large group creations, with 17 Musicians In Search of a Sound: Darfur (Aum Fidelity, 2008) and Tapestries for Small Orchestra (Firehouse 12, 2009) verging on masterworks themselves. But that doesn't diminish this seminal achievement. It is hard to imagine how this must have sounded when released amid the New Thing fire music. Poor distribution at the time meant that few heard Dixon's orchestral work and in spite of critical acclaim, few heard it afterwards either.

All that changes now. There is much to ponder and much to enjoy, though by keeping strictly to the format of the LP program, the length is constrained to just over 32 minutes. A number of traits which recur in Dixon's oeuvre are prefigured here: the use of two basses, careful deployment of overdubbing, and the written lines which emerge seemingly unheralded from what appears improvisation. Two orchestral tracks open each side, followed by two pieces for overdubbed trumpet and flute. However numbers of participants are irrelevant as Dixon thought orchestrally even when playing solo.

An eleven piece ensemble features on "Metamorphosis 1962-1966" opening with lush interweaving textures and going through multiple episodes. Some sections are clearly composed while others sound more ambiguous. Dixon's singular trumpet playing comes fully formed, not dissimilar from his delivery thirty years later in his painterly smears, growls and splutters. A passage for flamenco style bass and breathy trumpet decay could have been arranged by no-one else. Only the occasionally stiff drums and percussion betray the set's vintage.

Though "Voices" is performed by a quintet, Dixon's arrangements for cello, bass, bass clarinet are voiced to create a fuller backdrop over which his trumpet meditates in broad impasto. But the moods shift and later another section finds Dixon interacting excitably with Byard Lancaster's bass clarinet. Both "Nightfall Pieces" feature overdubbed trumpet. Though flute is credited on both, if present on the second piece it is near subliminal. Overlapping statements again straddle the borderline between the ordained and uncharted, either drifting or appearing in sudden bursts. On the closing cut, the two trumpets exchange airy solecisms: melancholic, meditative and ultimately questioning. This reissue constitutes essential listening, and hopefully presages further material from Dixon's extensive archives seeing daylight.

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