Revisited offers the chance for a meaningful look back into Bill Dixon's earliest recordings — The Archie Shepp-Bill Dixon Quartet, Bill Dixon 7-Tette / Archie Shepp And The New York Contemporary 5 and Intents And Purposes — as leader and the seismic transformation those recordings capture. He may have been approaching 40 at the time, but this combined release attests both to his early footing in bebop and his rapid development of the sound and compositional style that he would continue to hone over the rest of his career..
The first album Archie Shepp-Bill Dixon Quartet, which similarly captures tenor saxophonist Shepp in his leadership debut, falls right between Dixon's early recordings with Cecil Taylor and his unparalleled mid-1960s with and John Coltrane (A Love Supreme, Ascension) and the New York Contemporary Five. The quartet captured here includes Don Moore on bass and Paul Cohen on drums and produces a set of toe-tapping, relatively straight-forward bop pieces, presumably penned by the leaders. One hears a few flourishes and contortions here and there, but one is never sure whether these are brief stumbles, or evidence of the band consciously but fleetingly exploring new sounds. It is clear, however, that this band can play.
The next part of the collection, Bill Dixon 7-tette, shows a different side of Dixon, or steps toward a new stage in his development. Much of the formalistic circuity of bop is gone and we are left with melodies and a series of somber movements. The band has expanded, as well, to include Ken McIntyre on alto saxophone and oboe, George Barrow on tenor saxophone, Howard Johnson on tuba, baritone saxophone, Howard McRea on drums and Hal Dodson and David Izenzon (amidst his brief but memorable stint with Coleman and a couple years before a few recordings with Shepp) on bass. The double bass-triple horn combo serves Dixon well in allowing waves of sound and euphony to displace the punctuated rhythm of the first recording.
I am hardly the first to say this, but Intents & Purposes is where Dixon really comes into his own. The line-up is expanded: the under-sung Byard Lancaster on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Robin Kenyatta-alto saxophone, Jimmy Cheatham on bass trombone, George Marge on English horn and flute, Catherine Norris on cello, Jimmy Garrison on double bass, the now-legendary Reggie Workman on double bass, Robert Frank Pozar on drums, Marc Levin on percussion. The structures are more open and the sounds are more discordant, yet it maintains an appealing polish. Textures, moods and dynamism — swinging from sweltering, drafty string passages with some sharp trumpet lines to all-out rapid fire brass bleats — take the place of the rat-a-tat pulse. Then, interspersed among these third-stream/new thing pieces are the melancholic, or at least calm and contemplative, Nightfall pieces, which sound like Dixon's interpretation of Erik Satie and point to the next few decades of Dixon's career, indulging in layered tones and embracing the trumpet's wide range of sounds: sometimes crisp, sometimes gravelly, sometimes punchy. Of course, what makes this re-release so good is not just Intents & Purposes, but also the important musical context that precedes it.
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