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The Bill Dixon Orchestra: Intents And Purposes

Troy Collins By

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Intents And Purposes has long been revered as Bill Dixon's singular masterpiece. Out of print for years, the late trumpet innovator's magnum opus has been lovingly remastered and reissued on CD, by International Phonograph Inc., in a deluxe mini-LP styled package that replicates the original 1967 issue, providing an important opportunity to reevaluate this seminal work.

Since his decisive involvement in 1964's October Revolution in Jazz and lengthy tenure at Bennington College in Vermont (1968-1995), Dixon has been renowned for his skills as an organizer and an educator rather than his pioneering advancements as an instrumentalist and composer. As a former student of painting as well as music, Dixon's conceptual organization of sound relies heavily on color, shade and texture, with a keen sensitivity to dynamics—aspects that quickly placed him at the creative forefront of the 1960s New Thing. Originally recorded for RCA when he was 42, Intents And Purposes was Dixon's third album as a leader, following two efforts for Savoy in 1962 and 1964 that were co-led by tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp.

Though the epic opener "Metamorphosis 1962-1966" rallies around massed sonorities and dramatic dissonances, the lush unison lines and rich counterpoint that underpin the brooding five part suite exude a regal sensibility far removed from the impulsive free jazz of the time. Clocking in at just over thirteen minutes, the rousing episodes that punctuate the work's orchestral narrative feature a range of expressive detours, including the leader's raspy brass intonations, Byard Lancaster and Robin Kenyatta's soulfully acerbic alto excursions, and a stirring drum and percussion duet.

"Voices" pushes the aesthetic envelope even further, forming a startling alliance between austere classicism and the primal immediacy of ritualized rhythm. Performed by a string-heavy quintet, the lengthy piece features Dixon's melancholy horn refrains and Lancaster's otherworldly bass clarinet drifting over haunting string glissandi that eventually trade the sinuous sustain of legato melodies for the polyrhythmic power of tribal drumming. Two sublime variations of "Nightfall Pieces" serve as ethereal interludes between the date's long-form works—neo-classical vignettes that frame Dixon's breathy meditations against George Marge's diaphanous flute ruminations.

The reissue of Intents And Purposes allows the record to finally take its rightful place alongside such masterpieces as Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz (Columbia, 1960), John Coltrane's Ascension (Impulse!, 1965) and Miles Davis' Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970). An expansive collection of forward-thinking compositions, this historically important session reveals the then burgeoning New Thing's potential for more than just exhortative expressionism, helping establish the foundation of what visionary multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk referred to as "Black Classical Music."

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