Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bill Dixon and the Impossible Coda

"For Charlie Parker" - Lithograph, 50 x 34.5 cm.
Villeurbanne, France. [Winter/1994]
Shortly, I'll be publishing two reviews of and reflections on music by Bill Dixon - one a reissue of the landmark LP Intents and Purposes, recorded for RCA-Victor in 1967 and now on CD for the first time through International Phonograph, the other Dixon's final new recording, Envoi, just released on Victo (for Paris Transatlantic and Destination:Out, respectively). It would be unfair to completely compare two discs of material recorded nearly forty-five years apart. There has been so much done in between these two poles that it would be disingenuous to attempt to even put them on the same page in a discussion. As Bill Dixon often said, "the only thing these works have in common is that I did them." There's a little bit of discomfort stemming on my part from the fact that the newer work could be overshadowed by the first CD issue of a storied classic. I've lived with Intents and Purposes for many years - it's among the first creative music LPs that I purchased in college, and it holds a great deal of love and continued fascination for me. But having gotten to know Dixon personally in his last years, the new work or the next work and its importance often took precedence, as it should. Truly, there is very little in common between the two recordings, though textures of low reeds and strings, coupled with high brass explosions and surging percussion might on the surface be a shared language. We don't have him among the living anymore, and there will not be any "new" work of his to hear, but in a way that's all right. He opened things up in an extraordinary way for what's next, and for me personally, understanding the necessity of the present is what gets me more excited about cracking open a new CD from a young or middle-aged master than most of what comes down the reissue pike. That said, the timelessness of great music is still something to reflect on, and that's why it can (and should) take years to parse archival recordings by people like Dixon, or Roscoe Mitchell, or Cecil Taylor, Steve Lacy, Evan Parker, Teddy Charles, Andrew Hill or any of the other great musician-composers who have come before. Hopefully the reflections to come will be accurate, and that his music not only continues to be heard, but that it will continue to inspire musicians to do what they do.

Note: Rather than copying images of the album covers in question or photos of Bill, I've used one of his lithographs originally included in the article In Medias Res. His artwork is just as much of a fascination, although of a different sort. Hopefully a folio of his visual art, writings, and scores will become available.

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