“I would say that every obstacle you could probably have as an African-American cellist in jazz, I had,” Akua Dixon said this past spring, over coffee on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. “It would be easy to say what obstacles I didn’t have. But there’s a sense of satisfaction in just continuing on with my dream.” That dream, after considering Dixon’s lengthy and estimable career, is really more of a reality. Since the 1970s, she’s been there when strings were needed, both inside of and far from jazz, and often somewhere in the middle—see her long-running Quartette Indigo, which takes the string-quartet format into style-spanning improvisational territory.
Within jazz she’s bowed with the best—Carmen McRae, Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach, Archie Shepp—but she’s also gone soul with Lauryn Hill and funk with James Brown. And after a listen to Dixon’s latest album, the stirring Akua’s Dance, it’s clear that she’s incorporated steps from all of those styles in her choreography. There’s ominous yet convivial funk on “Don’t Stop”; a graceful cover of Sade’s “The Sweetest Taboo”; a few tracks featuring bassist Ron Carter; and a jaunty take of Lincoln’s “Throw It Away,” with Dixon singing. On most of the album Dixon, 69, plays a baritone violin, essentially an oversized cello that gives her playing a little extra pop. Different instruments, different genres and a different kind of musician.