Bill Dixon, Vade Mecum

The archive doesn’t seem to work right, but if you scroll down to the 12-10-02 entry of Melting Object, and you’ll see him salute trumpeter Bill Dixon. Dixon’s a great and underexposed figure, coming out of the 60′s avant-garde jazz movement and following his own path from thereon out.

I believe it has something to do with his melding of a very respectful classicism (he cites Webern especially along with the rest of the serialists) with an interest in pure timbre outside of the realm of explicit “notes.” His embrace of Austrian trumpet abuser Franz Hautzinger speaks to how open he’s been to abandoning structures of notes for pure sound. You can even hear it on his early (1964, I think, and it sounds like nothing else of the period), and rather unavailable Intents and Purposes, where his playing is far more linear, literally, than it became, but the relation of it to the bed of musicians beneath him shifts drastically and often.

But more specifically, just take the two Vade Mecum cd’s, from the early 90′s. Dixon works with two bassists, Barry Guy and William Parker, who come out of two drastically different backgrounds (English free improv and American free jazz–okay, if you like records like these, they seem drastically different). Parker plays with tonal and rhythmic ideas fairly often, while Guy is much more inclined towards extended techniques, more traditional “classical” playing, and noisy outbursts. The relationship seems to progress as the recording goes along (I’m with MO; the second disc is better), but my favorite moments are when Guy and Parker play at complete odds with one another, but Dixon bridges them. It’s beyond my ability to articulate without imprecise metaphor, but Dixon provides a well around which both Parker and Guy’s orbits can be independently sustained without crossing.

Dixon records sparingly, and the lack of flash in his playing has probably cost him as much as his personality has. But his structural concerns are, as far as I know, very different from anyone else’s, and only recently are younger musicians seeming to pick them up. (Two albums that strike me are GratHoVox and Wing Vane, but who can say?)