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Bill Dixon with Tony Oxley: Papyrus Volume 1

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In the album notes to Papyrus Volume 1, drummer Tony Oxley is given credit for “background sound ambience” while trumpeter Bill Dixon is responsible for “linear configuration.” Despite its accuracy, in no way does this oversimplified abstraction convey the richness, complexity or interactivity of these beautiful performances. Both Dixon and Oxley-who first met and worked together on the trumpeter’s brilliant 1994 album, Vade Mecum-have spent their illustrious careers dramatically expanding the possibilities of their given instruments, and here they go well beyond melody and rhythm to virtually sculpt with sound.

Oxley’s non-rhythmic metallic percussives are in constant motion, perpetually shifting in shape and density. His unorthodox drum kit is equipped with an arsenal of strange devices that produce a startling diversity of sounds, from the most hollow patter to the most resonant crash, but as geometric as his sound world gets, it always flows with an undeniable logic. While some of Dixon’s work takes the form of achingly gorgeous melodies that float like finely etched clouds over Oxley’s jagged architecture, more often than not he’s wringing a dazzling wealth of coloristic sounds and textures from his horn, playing its mouthpiece or a microphone as much as he plays the trumpet itself. By now his vast catalog of noises and effects, many of them altered with thick electronic reverb, has been well-documented-evocative smears, blurts, blubbers, grunts and sibilant streams of air-but Dixon’s ability to shape them all into something musical remains an astonishing feat of magic. Oxley is that rare kindred spirit who only enhances Dixon’s playing.