Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Bill Dixon & Exploding Star Orchestra (Thrill Jockey, 2008) *****

The great thing about the internet is that you know when a new CD is being released, and that it is immediately available for download. Such is the case with Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra. Rob Mazurek's adventurous band was a revelation last year, and it is now accompanied by Bill Dixon, the free jazz and avant-garde trumpet icon who has been most comfortable in small settings, in very spacious surroundings. Rob Mazurek's band is of course in stark contrast with this, because it brings extremely "busy" music, without a moment's rest, moving forward, moving forward, as it's name suggests. And that's how the album starts, hectic, frenetic, overpowering, but then halfway the first track the music slows down, with some droning horns and noise as a backdrop for Dixon's trumpet solo, with Mazurek's cornet echoing from a distance, full of intense drama and cosmic expansiveness. The orchestra keeps weaving sounds over sounds, mostly improvized reactions, with shades of color, interspersed notes by guitar, vibes, arco bass moving to silence and brought back to life in a one-note crescendo, which evolves into the spoken word of the second track (I am not a fan of spoken word, since it is often not more than pretentious non-poetry, and it is no different here, but luckily it doesn't last very long). The whole band moves into a chaotic frenzy, briefly leaving the full space to Dixon again, but then the orchestra starts with the composed piece, which is rhythmic, compelling, broad, expansive and cinematic, like on the first album. The third track, "Entrance/Two", brings a second version of the first one, equally impressive, yet not that different. In all, this is again a magnificent album, finding the right balance between composed orchestration and free improvization, impressive from beginning to end.

You can download or order from Thrill Jockey.

An alternative 25 minute version of the second track can be downloaded via iTunes.



Stephen Haynes said...

We always enjoy reading critical response to Bill's work, and this is a particularly important time for Bill.

It would be inaccurate to characterize Bill's inclinations as being "most comfortable in small settings, in very spacious surroundings." In this stance you have stumbled into a classic error: failing to make a distinction between recorded output and unreleased work.

For a better sense of the scope of Bill's work, quite a bit of which is for orchestra, take a look a Dixonia: A Bio Discography.

The work with Exploding Star is the third in a recent series for orchestra and followed a major new work Seventeen Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur premiered at the 2007 Vision Festival in NY. And more is on the way...

The problem with getting to do/hear Bill in an orchestral setting here in America has been the failure of presenters/funders to provide/support opportunities for realizing large scale work. While there are few more deserving and capable, there are also few who have consistently spoke up about the dynamics/politics of music business. Bill has paid a heavy price for sticking to his convictions and speaking up articulately and truthfully.


Stef said...


Thank you for your reaction. I must confess that I am not familiar with Bill's unreleased orchestral work, but more with albums like Papyrus, Opium, Vade Mecum, etc.

I look forward to hear more of him in different contexts.

Copen-Z said...

might wanna check this pearl from around 70's: http://www.mediafire.com/?mjpxn4vxonq
Janko Nilovic - Rythmes Contemporains

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