[JPL] A Trumpeter in His 80s Feeds the Fires of His Revolution

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Fri Jun 22 12:25:37 EDT 2007

June 22, 2007
Music Review | Bill Dixon
A Trumpeter in His 80s Feeds the Fires of His
“The new thing, the third great revolution in jazz,
has suddenly found its audience.” Whitney Balliett
wrote those words in 1965, bestowing a serious
subculture with a modicum of approval. By his
estimation, jazz’s first two revolutions had been
spearheaded respectively by Louis Armstrong and
Charlie Parker. The “new thing,” a looser but better
term than “the avant-garde,” seemed a bit more
surprising in its appeal.

What led Mr. Balliett to his conclusion was the
success of the October Revolution in Jazz, a new-thing
festival held the previous year by a handful of
intrepid musicians, and the Jazz Composers Guild, a
related artist collective. In both cases the chief
organizer was the trumpeter Bill Dixon, though he
didn’t receive full and proper credit at the time.

This history bears more than a casual significance to
the artists and audiences convening this week at the
Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts for the 12th
annual Vision Festival. On Wednesday night the
festival honored Mr. Dixon with a lifetime recognition
award, acknowledging the extent to which his early
efforts still serve as a precedent. There was also the
premiere of his latest large-scale work, an untitled
hourlong composition that confirmed the depth and
vitality of Mr. Dixon’s art.

Mr. Dixon, an eminence now in his 80s, played his
trumpet in the middle third of the piece.
Characteristically, his approach was both inventive
and analytical, involving a catalog of textures —
variously creaking, chortling or chuffing— along with
a ghostly echo effect. Behind him, his 16-piece Sound
Vision Orchestra ventured a collective improvisation,
drawing from a similar sonic palette. 

The first half-hour was more orchestral, beginning
with a mysterious accretion of timbres. Its prologue
was a solitary cry on soprano saxophone, followed by a
pitch-bending rumble on timpani. Crescendos gathered,
peaked and dispersed, with a bassoon and contrabass
clarinet buzzing at one register and a line of
saxophones fluttering in another. 

Repeatedly there was a sharp, sudden quiet, then a
free-form solo cadenza. Each of the group’s cornetists
— Taylor Ho Bynum, Stephen Haynes and Graham Haynes —
took one of these, starting out unaccompanied and
ending with full ensemble support. Among other things,
Mr. Dixon was exploring a balance of expansion and
contraction and letting the players generate any
number of internal arrangements.

During the final 15 minutes, he drove the group toward
full-bore combustion, a shocking release after so much
measured tension. His gestures as a conductor were
simple and emphatic: seeking more intensity from his
drummer, Jackson Krall, he mimed the bashing of a
cymbal. At another point, leaning into the saxophone
section, he waved both arms and shouted “More!,”
inducing the desired effect. Eventually he cut the
storm short and cued the final section, an afterimage
consisting of ceremonial long tones. 

Mr. Dixon’s performance was one highlight among many
for the Vision Festival; a strong subsequent set
featured the pianist Marilyn Crispell, the bassist
Henry Grimes and the drummer Rashied Ali. This weekend
the schedule will include rare appearances by Ganelin
Trio Priority (tomorrow) and the South African drummer
Louis Moholo (Sunday). 

And the Orensanz Foundation will probably be packed,
as it was Tuesday and Wednesday. Mr. Balliett might or
might not have been right to say that the new music
suddenly found an audience in 1965; what matters is
that it’s still finding one, and that the feeling of
suddenness still applies. 

The Vision Festival continues through Sunday at the
Angel Orensanz Foundation, 172 Norfolk Street, Lower
East Side; visionfestival .org.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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