Bill Dixon – 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur

Bill Dixon – 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur

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[AUM046] - CD in classic jewelcase (white tray) with 4-panel insert
/// Getting down to the last copies..

Bill Dixon: trumpet, composer, conductor
Graham Haynes: cornet, flugelhorn
Stephen Haynes: cornet, flugelhorn
Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn
Dick Griffin: tenor trombone
Steve Swell: tenor trombone
Joseph Daley: tuba
Karen Borca: bassoon
Will Connell: bass clarinet
Michel Côté: Bb contrabass clarinet
Andrew Raffo Dewar: soprano saxophone
John Hagen: tenor & baritone saxophones
JD Parran: bass saxophone, bamboo flute
Andrew Lafkas: bass
Glynis Loman: cello
Jackson Krall: drums, percussion
Warren Smith: vibraphone, tympani, drums

Among all else of great note that happened in music during 2008 was the magnificent return to record of legendary composer, trumpeter, teacher and all-around musical force, Bill Dixon. His contributions to the body of great Black American Music first began in the 1960s: as a producer for Savoy Records; the groundbreaking October Revolution concert series in NYC 1964; as architect of the Jazz Composers Guild. In the late 60s he left ‘the scene’ but continued leaving an indelible mark on the music by devoting himself to teaching; creating the Black Music Division at Bennington College, VT in 1973.

While he never stopped composing (prolifically at that), and produced a series of small ensemble recordings from the 70s – 90s, his orchestral work had gone unrecorded and/or unreleased since his momentous album Intents And Purposes (RCA, 1967).

Forward to 2008: Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra, a well-received collaboration with Rob Mazurek, was released by Thrill Jockey in February. In June, 17 Musicians in Search of a Soundthis tour de force of orchestral composition, conduction and improvisational exploration – was released, having been specially commissioned by Arts for Art, and world-premiered at Vision Festival XII. In July, Dixon would record his final expansive work, Tapestries for Small Orchestra, released by Firehouse 12 the following year.

4 Stars. "17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur is pure Dixon, massive in scale and rigorous in execution. Live recordings are gambles, and the stakes are higher when it's a one-off performance like this 2007 Vision Festival show. But neither sound nor execution suffers here; this is not a mere concert souvenir, but a significant statement. Dixon's music is about the process of becoming; while its expansions into dense, eventful fanfares and contractions into hushed, detailed dialogues may be scripted, the sound of the music is not. Even so, it's not about flailing in the dark--as group improvisations go, this one is remarkable for its poise and balance. Rather, it's about great players subsuming their identities into an ensemble. While there are some great solos, particularly by J.D. Parran, Karen Borca and the three cornetists, the way the music shifts and coalesces around their voices matters most."
–Bill Meyer, DownBeat

Review in Dusted, by Jason Bivins:

"New music from Bill Dixon is always welcome. You don't often hear the great trumpeter (and electronician, let's not forget) in a large ensemble. When he's not performing solo in the cryptosphere, Dixon is often working one of his many spectrally-inclined double-bass quartets. Aside from the now 41-year-old Intents and Purposes (desperately in need of reissuing) and a spotlight stop in Tony Oxley's Celebration Orchestra in 1995, I can't think of too many contexts like this one, a live document from the 2007 Vision Festival.

For this event, Dixon convened great free jazz players from multiple generations: [see above]. Whew, that's a helluva lineup. Notice that we've got folks from the latest Braxton bands (Bynum and Dewar), vets from the 1970s-80s loft jazz scene (Daley, Borca, Smith), players with one foot in the "mainstream" (Graham Haynes), and contemporary musical polymaths like Swell and Krall. Despite the obviousness of these confluences, I'm going to resist seeing this as a capstone event, punctuating either Dixon's career or some moment in American improvised music. Rather, it's simply a distillation of Dixon's singular vision – a collective improvisation rooted in equal measures of passion and outrage.

Thank goodness the sound isn't muddy, the great bane of large ensemble recordings, because there is an awful lot of color and detail across this hour of music. The piece opens with a nice fanfare, giving way to cloudy chords, gorgeous lower register work, tutti swells, and fantastic tympani from Smith. The ensemble digs into slow moving sectional work that is – not surprisingly, given the subject matter – very ponderous during the "Intrados" and "In Search of a Sound" (with Bynum's playing both skittery and lonesome, while Borca slinks beneath the heavy grouped winds). As the piece moves forward, many of its passages are broken down, sometimes into the sorrowful expressions of a single voice or elsewhere into a small sub-grouping of instruments. But every so often, as in the middle of "Darfur," there are violent eruptions of percussion and sawing strings (Borca again sounds phenomenal here, blowing rough lyrical lines atop the frenzy).

As the album moves into its second half, specifically its centerpiece (the 24-minute "Sinopia"), we finally hear Dixon put down his conducting baton and begin to paint those incredible shapes in the sky. What a sound, that lovely assortment of muted squeaks, slurs, and muffled echo-heavy yawps. The remainder of the record isn't quite so eruptive, but it builds steadily and incrementally, with ideas exchanged, combined, and transformed subtly, the whole pinwheeling with great weight, like a large animal craning its head slowly, or like a Calder mobile. It's a very rich experience, and should be considered a must for Dixon freaks and fans of large ensemble improvisation alike."

4.5 Stars. “If there's an opposite of aging that isn't growing ever youthful then Bill Dixon's got it. It comes here in music of infinite color, played by an ensemble entirely empathetic with his aims and intentions yet still capable of putting some personal stamp on it. As such it gets to grips, in no uncertain terms, with one of the perennial paradoxes of creative music.” –Nic Jones, All About Jazz

This project was supported by the New York State Music Fund, established by the New York State Attorney General at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors; released in cooperation with Arts for Art, Inc.

1. Prelude - 03:07    
2. Intrados - 03:58
3. In Search of a Sound - 04:14
4. Contour One - 01:43    
5. Contour Two - 00:09    
6. Scattering of the Following - 07:00    
7. Darfur - 05:27    
8. Contour Three - 03:13    
9. Sinopia - 23:37    
10. Pentimento I - 00:42    
11. Pentimento II - 00:16    
12. Pentimento III - 00:22
13. Pentimento IV - 02:41

Compositions by Bill Dixon, © Metamorphosis Music (BMI)

Recorded live June 20, 2007 at Vision Festival XII by Stefan Heger
Mixed and mastered by Nick Lloyd on January 9 & 10, 2008
at Firehouse 12, New Haven, CT
Orchestra/Production Coordinator: Stephen Haynes
Produced by Bill Dixon
Cover: Visual art by Bill Dixon