|Rob Dixon talks to his public Saturday night.|
On soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones (chiefly tenor), his sound is always firmly centered, and he communicates directly in his compositions and solos. When improvising, Dixon can sometimes throw out a lot of notes, but he always eases back to a kind of simple urgency. He never seems to lose his feeling for the phrase, which makes his style accessible to jazz cognoscenti and casual fans alike.
With the impending release of "Coast to Crossroads," he seems poised to widen his fan base, helped by the advocacy of Charlie Hunter, the wizard of the seven-string guitar, who produced the recording and plays on it.
A preview of that disc was offered Saturday night at the Jazz Kitchen. Joining Dixon in the front line, as on the CD, was trombonist Ernest Stuart. The contributions on "Coast to Crossroads" of Hunter and drummer Mike Clark are essential and clearly a boost to the recording's commercial prospects. But the rest of the local band that presented tunes from the new CD was fully up to the assignment of showcasing the music, mostly originals. They were Steven Jones, keyboard; Brandon Meeks, electric bass, and Richard "Sleepy" Floyd, drums.
The attributes of Dixon's sound mentioned above were fully evident. So was the fiery panache of Stuart's trombone, fully complementary to the leader's playing. Without the textural pervasiveness of Hunter's guitar, the wonderful "T 'n' T" combination of tenor and trombone was pushed to the forefront. Yet the local band functioned as a unit largely because its members are familiar to one another on the bandstand; Meeks and Floyd are anchors of the hip-hop band Native Sun. Jones is nearly as ubiquitous around town as Dixon.
The boogaloo feeling of "San Leandro," which opened the set, enjoyed the horns' splendor on the unison theme. Dixon laid out a coherent solo that set the pattern. Jones followed concisely, and Meeks offered fluency without clutter. Floyd had a way of sounding laid-back while never sacrificing exuberance in the groove.
To the degree that this band's music is derived imaginatively from the Headhunters' style (with Clark behind the drum kit), I found Meeks and Floyd more satisfying than the bassist and drummer Herbie Hancock brought with him Tuesday for a Hilbert Circle Theatre concert, which had such Headhunter references as "Actual Proof" on the set list. This sounds like local patriotism, maybe even narrow-mindedness, but I would place the partnership displayed by Meeks and Floyd in "Dreams in Exosphere" (a tune not on the CD, Dixon told the audience) on the highest level of what such a duo can accomplish. There was no daylight between the pair's concept and execution; it was that tight.
"Black Mountain" furthermore displayed the quintet's special excellence. After a brief introduction by Jones, Dixon on alto showed his knack for establishing a reflective mood and not abandoning it after dialing up the volume. He's a rare soloist in never allowing the latter half of a solo to contradict the first part. Too often you hear some jazzmen put variety into their playing in a rather slapdash manner, as if they were thinking: "Well, that's enough of that. How about some of this now?" Dixon always keeps his balance and sense of direction.
Stuart's trombone outing was effusive yet to the point; Jones' wah-wah or simulated vocal setting for his solo had the same unerring sense of knowing what counts. Jones, always a sensitive accompanist, was the only other band member needed for Dixon's musings on the standard "It Could Happen to You," the last number before a vigorous encore that turned the band into a sextet, with the cool customer Marlin McKay stepping up on flugelhorn. Right to the end, I continued to be amazed by Floyd. Like the man on the forthcoming record, this drummer is a master of that crisp funk style, and can fold into his governing patterns deft arabesques and accents. He's not only in the pocket — he sews in whole new pockets.
This being labeled a CD release party, that party feeling never let up. But it also indicated new vistas for the leader in material he is master of. Borderless fame and recognition? Rob Dixon, it could happen to you.
[Photo by Rob Ambrose]