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Bill Dixon: Envoi

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Bracingly conceptual, trumpeter Bill Dixon’s live Envoi is for the listener whose tastes run towards the heady. If you’re prone to nodding in agreement as you listen to something like Ornette Coleman’s Swedish recordings for Blue Note, here are your latest stomping grounds, spread across two gargantuan movements: one at 24 1/2 minutes, the other at nearly 28, plus a curt, spoken-word chaser of an epilogue that serves to help the listener decompress.

“Section I” is as protean as its title is stark. Sound, just barely controlled, it seems, comes from every angle. Cellos bray, trumpets wheeze, bugles implore, and one has the sense of being tossed, willy-nilly, into the same dark continent that informed Miles Davis in his Dark Magus period. Warren Smith’s drums provide what there is of a pulse, but the key never feels steady; that is, until these seemingly disparate elements blend together in a keening, bolero-type figure, a long, lone groove snaking its way free of the cacophony.

“Section II,” perhaps not surprisingly, ratchets up the avant-garde drama, with a stunted opening that consists of a soft embouchure blowing uselessly against a mouthpiece. Sound, which had been torrential, has now been stopped up. And so it falls to the rest of the members of the nonet to come drifting in, experimenting with who can best initiate a dialogue. Michel Côté’s contrabass clarinet steps forward with an appealing piquancy, and the other horns play off of his opening line until it’s sounded again and again, as if from one bird to another. A band, a concept, an audience in flight.

Originally Published