Photo: Stephen Albahari

Trumpeter Bill Dixon didn’t record much between 1966 and 1980. Having taken a position at Bennington College in Vermont, where he created the Black Music Division, he was focused on teaching during some of jazz’s most adventurous — if commercially parlous — years. He taught at Bennington from 1968 to 1995, and from 1970 to 1976 in particular was, in his own words, “in total isolation from the market places of this music.” Much later on, he released several CDs’ worth of solo explorations in the Odyssey box set, but by then he’d already re-established his reputation as an avant-garde jazz composer and conceptualist without peer, through a series of superb releases on the Soul Note label.

In 1981, though, another Italian label, Fore, released two LPs’ worth of Dixon’s music, recorded during that Seventies interregnum. Considerations 1 and 2 gather tracks recorded between 1972 and 1976. Some are solo pieces, a few feature small groups, and one is performed with an orchestra. All display the Dixon voice, with its fixation on open space, unusual intervals and juxtapositions, and disinterest in conventional rhythm.

Considerations 1 begins with the 12-minute “Places and Things,” a drumless trio featuring Dixon on trumpet, Steve Horenstein on tenor saxophone, and Alan Silva on bass. It’s a portion of a larger work, and was recorded in Paris, where the trumpeter had gone for a festival. The bassist is by far the most prominent and dominant voice; it often seems as if Dixon in particular is accompanying him, emitting long, slow tones that seem to whisper to a halt, as Silva bounces along joyfully and emphatically. The next two pieces, “Long Alone Song” and “Shrike,” are solo recordings from a studio at Bennington; both can also be found on Odyssey.

The album’s second side features another long trio piece, “Pages,” on which Horenstein reappears, Henry Letchner is on drums, and Dixon plays both trumpet and piano. The saxophonist’s playing is tender and romantic in the manner of Dexter Gordon or even Houston Person, and Dixon backs him with soft balladry before stepping away from the keyboard. When he picks up the trumpet, he begins to sputter and squeal, as was his wont, and Letchner enters, tumbling across the kit and gradually building up an almost tribal beat. Then Horenstein is heard again, unaccompanied; Dixon gets another turn, squawking and whimpering into what seem like two different microphones, with Letchner subtle behind him. Finally, Dixon returns to the piano for a romantic duo with the saxophonist. At no point do all three men play together.

Considerations 2 begins with a 14-second solo spurt called “Webern”; that’s followed by “Orchestra Piece,” recorded at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, in 1972. The piece is somewhat static — there’s no dominant melody or sense of progress, though a hand-held shaker provides accents if not rhythm. The orchestra hovers behind Dixon like a cloud as he takes a slow, languorous solo; occasionally they rise up, buzzing like hornets.

A long duo with Letchner, somewhat more aggressive than their work together on “Pages,” ends the first side and kicks off the second. (It fades out, then fades back in.) The album concludes with “Sequences,” a nearly 13-minute piece featuring Jim Tifft on trumpet, Jeff Hoyer on trombone, Horenstein on tenor sax, Jay Ash on baritone sax, and Chris Billias on percussion. Like the orchestral piece on the first side, it was recorded in performance in Wisconsin, and it has a similarly cloudy quality to start with, with the horns mostly massing behind Dixon like a Greek chorus of moaning ghosts, as he solos. But then Hoyer begins to repeat a few notes obsessively, and the saxes do something similar-but-different behind him, punctuated occasionally by a quick fluttery fanfare. Things get really exciting in the second half, when the saxes erupt in a staccato, romping-and-farting riff-storm like something the World Saxophone Quartet might play, as Billias switches from shaker to gamelan-like percussion. This might be the least “Dixonian” piece in the trumpeter’s discography. It almost rocks.

The two Considerations LPs have never been reissued on vinyl or CD; they’re not on any streaming service; and they’re not that easy to come by. Some enterprising soul should absolutely find the rights (and the tapes) and get them back out there, though, because the music is extraordinary and beautiful and 100% worth hearing for all Bill Dixon fans and anyone with an ear for adventurous, creative music.

Phil Freeman

2 Comment on “Bill Dixon

  1. Pingback: Newsbits: Titan to Tachyons / Bill Dixon / Sun Ra Arkestra – Avant Music News

  2. Pingback: Odyssey @ 20 | burning ambulance

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