The baritone sax introduced the performance alone with fluttering lines interrupted by juddering yawls and interspersed with a delicate tracery of squeals. A brooding atmosphere congealed around the sax with rumbling tympani, dark washes of synthesized noise and bowed bass. Dixon selected his moment to return to centre stage, quieting the band to blow bubbly breath sounds into a mic equipped with a delay so his exhalations reverberated around the hall. Lafkas snatched airy strokes across his strings and Smith rubbed a wetted finger across the tympani skin to produce a resonant squeak.
The piece proceeded amid a meditative calm. Dixon, a painter of sound, carefully placed subdued blurts over the groups subtle dark underpinning, with only occasional pointillistic accents from Smith's vibes or tympani. As Dixon became more emphatic, the group responded: Horenstein essayed a catalogue of baritone squawks and Smith clattered the shells of the tympani. Dixon, listening attentively signalled the keyboards to come forward in the mix as a counterbalance. The performance allowed ample space for sounds to dissipate into silence and timbral contrasts of light against the shade of the predominant bass tonalities of which Dixon is so fond.
Dixon used reverb to striking effect, sending bright trumpet bursts echoing around the hall, then layering deep resonant growls against the decaying echoes. The arco scrapings, baritone flutters, keyboard creaks and vibe clusters blended to form a shifting quilt of sound beneath him. Lafkas was constantly in motion up and down the fretboard, while his bow skated over the strings bringing forth whirring drones. The keyboards were used largely for textural nuance - electronic washes or judders. The performance stood in sharp relief to much of the Festival in its organic pacing, eschewing of pyrotechnics and painterly emphasis on the overall sound, with individual contributions largely subsumed to the greater good. The ambient, submarine sounds of Dixon's music are so sui generis that they transcend jazz idioms and demand to be judged on their own terms.
The piece concluded with Dixon alone blowing subterranean growls with the trumpet bell placed over the mic, followed by a litany of farts, blurts and slurs, all with echo, left to disappear into silence. The conclusion was greeted with a standing ovation from the attentive and enthusiastic audience and a delighted Dixon shook hands with all his band before they left the stage.
Eloping with the Sun
The final act of the evening, Eloping With The Sun, featured Joe Morris on guitar and banjo, William Parker on doussn'gouni and sintir and Hamid Drake on frame drum. Already late, they were scheduled to play against a video projected through an arrangement of transparent draperies. However hanging the draperies proved so problematic and time consuming that the three musicians had settled into a small conclave centre stage and started laying down their groove long before the MC, Zero Boy, was given the go-ahead to introduce them.
Parker laid down a bass pattern on sintir (an African three stringed bass lute), embroidered by Drake's hypnotic syncopation, with Morris overlaying accelerating patterns on banjo. Drake intoned an Arabic chant and Morris jacked out a riff as they drifted into a mesmeric trance music, with one or other musician initiating changes in the shifting patterns, but not affecting the timeless groove. At the conclusion of the first piece Morris said this was the first time they had played this music in public, since having recorded their CD.
For the second piece, Morris switched to guitar and Parker picked up his doussn'gouni (an African hunter's guitar). There was less of a flow to this piece until Drake settled into a groove (or rather series of grooves). The music evoked images of a dusty road through an African village, in spite of Morris' sporadic diversions into more overtly jazzy phrasing. At the finale, Drake rubbed his fingers over his drum skin extracting a sweeping brush sound, signalling the close, as they brought the long evening's music to a gradual halt.
Another great night!