Sunday, July 22, 2018

In demand with such local colleagues as Steve Allee, Rob Dixon also partners with Charlie Hunter for "Coast to Crossroads"

Indianapolis jazz fans have listened to Rob Dixon in many musical contexts as he's made himself
Shoulders hunched, brow furrowed, eyes closed, Rob Dixon lets loose
indispensable on the local music scene.

His funky side gets an outing with the crucial boost of Charlie Hunter, a widely known guitarist who has invited Dixon to go on the road with him after welcoming him to the Jazz Kitchen bandstand on a swing through here not long ago.

Hunter produced "Coast to Crossroads," a title that exemplifies Dixon's reach (since he also has a New York sojourn on his resume). The guitarist has a crucial role introducing Dixon's original tunes (and three by others, about which more later) on this CD, along with drummer Mike Clark throughout and, on many tracks, trombonist Ernest Stuart.

The CD was available when Dixon was in the front line for a performance by the Steve Allee Quartet
Steve Allee Quartet plays to a full house at the Jazz Kitchen.
Saturday night at the Jazz Kitchen. The pianist-bandleader gave it a plug from the bandstand. "Coast to Crossroads" presents Dixon in a style he is at home with, but he seemed equally comfortable in the mainstream repertoire Allee's group offered. To end the first of its two sets, the quartet adapted well to presenting the funk credentials of "Millions," a Dixon composition on the new CD.

Throughout the first set, seasoned rapport was evident among the four: besides Allee and Dixon, Nick Tucker on bass and Kenny Phelps on drums. "Without a Song," a nearly 90-year-old standard, got a winsome unaccompanied introduction from the piano. With the full band, it became a hearty swinger featuring a fluid Dixon solo. Phelps on brushes displayed the variety of intensity that eschewing the sticks allows when in good hands.

Other highlights included Tucker's lilting solo in another standard, the nearly as venerable "It's Easy to Remember," and Allee's wide-ranging inspirations in Thelonious Monk's "We See," varying from chordal passages to single-line flights. The group treated the piece with the wittiness it deserves. They were on the same page throughout Wayne Shorter's "Adam's Apple," playing it together for the first time, Allee told the impressed crowd.

Back to "Coast to Crossroads": "Memphis Bus Stop" is an amusing romp, with Hunter's contribution particularly setting the atmosphere. The piece starts with lots of shimmer from the guitar. Dixon shows off his typical mastery of making restlessness seem as if it's never far from finding points of rest. More well-applied guitar shimmer, feeling like the wooziness of a sleepless night in an unfamiliar place, brings the piece to an end.

On "Yo" and "Millions," Hunter's bass line is as juicy as any you might find from an electric bassist who's focusing only on laying down such a line. On top of that, he boosts Dixon's compositions up to a memorable plane, even though they rest upon a conventional idiom. Trombonist Stuart is always a worthy henchman, never failing to give the band's front line a well-controlled, crunchy quality.

The estimable Clark has a nice outing on brushes in "Wishing Well." With sticks, he shows off a crisp, unpredictable way of energizing his bandmates in the tradition of the Headhunters band he was part of. He can make the beat seem elusive and a tad complex while always sounding exactly placed, as on "San Leandro"; this is not a man given to cliches, coasting, or doing the obvious.

A little nitpicking now: The disc ends with an unaccompanied Dixon meditation on "It Could Happen to You." For some reason, the 1943 song isn't credited to Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke,  It's a nice performance, but the jacket ought to have indicated that it's one of three pieces here that are not by Dixon. And, for an even smaller nit, it's tiresome to see popular songs that jazz musicians happen to like described as "jazz standards," as Bill Milkowski does in the notes. "It Could Happen to You" is not a jazz standard; it's a Great American Songbook pop standard. "Woody 'n You," "Hi-Fly," and "Well, You Needn't" are examples of jazz standards. Got it?

[Photos by Mark Sheldon (Dixon solo), Rob Ambrose (Steve Allee Quartet)]

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