Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra

Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra

BY Vish KhannaPublished Jan 23, 2008

A fortuitous encounter between jazz great Bill Dixon and prolific music diplomat Rob Mazurek at the 2006 Guelph Jazz Festival yields a rare effort that sounds as cool as it looks on paper. That Dixon entered Electrical Audio studios in Chicago at all is a minor miracle — for an influential career spanning four decades, the revered trumpeter’s recorded output is notably scant. Conversely, cornet/trumpet/multimedia expert Mazurek keenly documents his collaborations, fostering his Chicago and São Paulo Underground projects, and his vibrant musical behemoth, Exploding Star Orchestra. Here, the compositional virtues of both figures collide, with a uniquely conservative adventurism propelling the three pieces. Mazurek’s "Constellations for Innerlight Projections (For Bill Dixon)” lies between complementary Dixon compositions "Entrances/One” and "Entrances/Two.” Designed as a laptop-manipulated video score, Mazurek’s piece contains cinematic spoken word, dramatic musical upheavals and ambient textures, including the scratchy skronk of air stumbling through horns. Both "Entrances” are immediately gratifying rhythmically, with percussionists Mike Reed and John Herndon (Tortoise) laying a thick swing down for the other 13 musicians to traverse, eventually fading away to allow stretches of sonic exploration. Occasionally distant, the record’s open-ended tone captures the live vitality of an ensemble, not simply two gifted players, working together.

I understand you were quite moved by the Exploding Star Orchestra when you saw them at the Guelph Jazz Festival. What is it about this group that speaks to you and inspired you to collaborate with them?
Bill Dixon: The group generated an understanding of its use and application of the musical materials that served to formulate a cohesion with its music and materials that made what they played, (as that concerns materials) less important than how it was that they knew those materials and subsequently engaged in the act of its performance. They were exciting to listen to and what they played as "originated" by the leader, individually, and collectively, solos and ensembles, focused attention on the fact that here was a young group, doing new music, that was well-rehearsed and creative enough to literally "bypass" the sometimes enforced rigidity that is, or can be, imposed by the arduousness automatically dictated by the necessity of rehearsal, that oftentimes attaches itself to the realisation of the music. Said more simply, their performance managed to avoid anything that would have, for me, interfered with the artistic intent of the music that they were working on. When I first met Rob [Mazurek] I told him that the work that he was doing that utilised his own performance on the trumpet in tandem with the percussionists and his usage of the laptop, was something that I would be interested in doing some things with him in the future. As I recall it that was the initiation of the idea of he and I doing something together with his orchestra.

You've actually made very few records in your life so this new album is particularly significant for followers of your work. How would describe the experience of going to Electrical Audio and making this album with the ESO?
It is my feeling that a recording, which attempts a documentation of a musical event that will then, in the future, be available for both scrutiny and evaluation for as long as that recording is in existence, is something that shouldn't be frivolously engaged in and should only be attempted when the work, relating to being able to sustain longevity listening, seems to support the idea of its being recorded. And as far as numbers of recordings being available it should be noted that Anton Webern's work, or almost all of it, is available on one box set that contains three or four long-playing records. So it is never the amount that counts, it is always the breadth of the scope and the quality. This, of course, is my own personal feeling. Also a recording is forever so, as a consequence of that, I have been focused on that premise and the recordings that I have done have been done with attention being focused on the above. When Rob and I spoke about both my performance with the Orchestra and then, later, about my recording with the Orchestra, it seemed both natural and logical since I had gotten a "feel" for how he and they went about doing things. They are a very good group of players and he is an excellent musician, leader and composer and knows how to get the best out of his players, and they were unstinting in the attention that they gave to the realisation of what was necessary for my own work and, as time went on, I became more interested in working with and doing a special work for and with them. Obviously it is more complex than that but IÕm in a hurry.

If you've listened much to the album, what do you think of it and the players involved? Would you say that your own playing has been affected by the ESO since these sessions? Do you imagine you might enter a recording studio again any time soon?
I have given a considerable amount of time to listening to the recording and I am quite pleased with it. I think that it is a good and effective work that serves well to focus on areas of my work that might, for listeners desirous of that information, reveal some things more openly that I am currently attempting a probing of - especially work for the larger group. Doing this recording allowed me to focus more intently on areas of the work (on the instrument) that I am currently doing, as that work serves to permeate and inform the players, relating to both what I am working on for possible absorption by the group and what I want them to also approach and utilise in their own work (in the piece being done) either as "take off points" for their own individual solos or for application as figures or lines or voicings or sound masses to be introduced within the confines of the performance of the piece. One's own playing is always "affected" by any performance circumstance if the interpretation of "being affected" takes into consideration what has inspired one to either play or to not play. Those variables, for the inquisitive player - and I am one of them - continue to exist and in my opinion will always exist when the circumstances of performance permit a platform for that kind of existence. I do have some works that I am preparing for recording and I hope, or I am aiming to record them in the near future.

The pieces here are quite emotional and dynamic and they each possess their own kind of power. For your part, there's an apparent relationship between the two "Entrances" and their structure. Can you elaborate upon the meaning of these two pieces, what inspired them, and how they're connected? What do you think of Rob's piece?
Rob explained the kind of work that he was assembling for me and that let me know - especially once I had gotten to Chicago and heard the group perform their material publicly - what approaches I might make use of for my own work and contribution for the orchestra. In that instance both the hearing of the orchestra in performance of Rob's work and my own later rehearsals with the orchestra of my own work provided me with what I needed to know relating to how I would "place" those things as that related to attempting to make my work appear as "organic" and not a "tack on" or even an "extension" of Rob's work but something that could be considered "bookmarks" for the totality of the three pieces, Rob's and mine. If you will note, I used a rhythmic figure with the drums, timps, vibes, and percussion, in a manner more suggestive, in the beginning of both "Entrance One" and "Entrance Two," of rhythmic ideas formerly associated with my work. That kind of sound and overt propulsion automatically granted "permission" for the more static quality of stasis, where the sound seems to just "be" and has no real discernible beginning, middle, or end, which, to my ear and my way of thinking, especially for this piece, allowed a virtual summing up of all that had transpired and was logical - my kind of logic - for the piece's ending. Relating to what "inspired" the two "Entrances"? The ESO and its membership and the construction of Rob's piece itself. That's how they are connected and the basis for all of this comes out of the form and structure of Rob's piece, which permits my "bookending" it with my "Entrances/One" and "Entrances/Two."
(Thrill Jockey)

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