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Recent Listening: A Bill Dixon Rarity

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Bill Dixon, Intents and Purposes (International Phonograph). Dixon, who died last year at 84, is typically described as a force in the free jazz that emerged in the1960s. He was that, but Intents and Purposes defied labeling when Dixon recorded it more than four decades ago. This long overdue reissue confirms that the album withstands categorization. Its daring and forthright iconoclasm has substance that outlives much music that was conceived in protest or defiance in the roiling atmosphere of that decade.

Dixon's trumpet and flugelhorn improvisations flow, jab, dance, flutter, growl and brood through, around and over the other musicians. In some cases, the other musicians are Dixon himself, overdubbed. The first of the two brief “Nightfall Pieces" has multiples of Dixon and flutist George Marge creating a mesmerizing soundscape. In the second, Dixon ruminates in call-and-response with himself across the stereo channels.

Favoring low notes on his own instruments and those of others, he employs the ten-piece group in “Metamorphosis" to create rich substrata voicings. Bass trombone, bass clarinet, cello and two double basses are among the instruments that provide oddly reassuring contrast with Dixon, alto saxophonist Robin Kenyatta and bass clarinetist Byard Lancaster, whose solos search almost to the edge of desperation. “Metamorphosis" includes written passages of subtle complexity that it would be easy to overlook in the passion of the performance.

In “Voices," whether he achieves it on paper or by contrivance in the studio, Dixon manages to give his trumpet, Lancaster's bass clarinet, Jimmy Garrison's bass, Catherine Norris's cello and Robert Frank Cleve Pozar's drums fullness of sound one might expect from an ensemble half again bigger. Dixon's choice of musicians was eclectic; avant gardists like Kenyatta, Lancaster and Garrison alongside the mainstream trombonist Jeannie and Jimmy Cheatham and Marge, a reliable reed specialist of the New York studio scene.

To his credit, reissue producer Jonathan Horwich saw to it that the Dixon album looks like the original RCA Victor LP, down to the striking cover shot. It is a reminder that record packages were once a pleasure to handle and the notes easy to read. The liner notes are included as an insert that unfolds to nearly the size of an LP sleeve. More important, the quality of the sound recorded in RCA's storied studio B is flawlessly remastered. In a brief addendum to the notes, Horwich writes of Intents and Purposes,

“It stands as one of the most important and revolutionary musical expressions of the 20th century."

That may be true.

“There was nothing like it before 1966/67 and there has been nothing like it since."

That is true.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved.

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