… l’ouvrage de traîne est captivant, que rehausse en plus les incursions qu’y taille la clarinette contrebasse de Côté. — Le son du grisli, France
The recording is excellent, the playing superb all round, and the result is a fitting testament to the musical universe he created. — Paris Transatlantic, France
Recorded at the 26th Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, May 20, 2010.
CD (VICTO 120)
- Label: Victo
- VICTO 120 / 2011
- UCC 777405012029
- Total duration: 53:05
- 127 mm × 142 mm × 6 mm
- 50 g
In the press
Un mois avant de disparaître, Bill Dixon emmenait un nonette à Victoriaville, et donnait son dernier concert. À ses côtés, les musiciens déjà présents sur Tapestries for Small Orchestra: Taylor Ho Bynum, Stephan Haynes, Rob Mazurek, Graham Haynes et Michel Côté, Glynis Loman, Ken Filiano et Warren Smith. En deux temps, Envoi arrange des parallèles et provoque quelques perturbations qui interrogent leur résistance: l’ouvrage de traîne est captivant, que rehausse en plus les incursions qu’y taille la clarinette contrebasse de Côté.
“You’re sitting in a cab, maybe going over a contract, discussing mundane matters; you open the door, step out, and you’re confronted by the universe.” I can still hear Bill Dixon’s voice coming down the phone. It was a pivotal moment, because it was one of the few times he spoke of the emotive qualities underlying his music. It wasn’t that he was unwilling to discuss his work, far from it! He would fill extraordinary hours with the technical underpinnings of his unique compositional approach, but seemed unwilling to address directly the characteristics of his work that evoked matters of the spirit, those aspects of his vision that verbiage would not contain. And yet such concerns pervade every note he played and composed. Envoi is, in one way, just another Dixon composition, but the fact that it is his last performance lays on the work the burden of summation. Recorded at the Victoriaville Festival in 2010 and using the same forces as on 2008’s Tapestries, it does indeed look back while maintaining the autonomy expected from every Dixon performance.
As is often the case, Dixon’s universe is a slowly expanding one. There are moments of white heat, such as the big bang and percussive roar that opens the piece, and in the final minutes, a monumental crescendo brings the whole work into sharp focus, as was the case with Seventeen Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur. Despite these bursts of catalytic energy, much of Envoi exudes calm and reflection that I can only attribute to age and experience. Nowhere have Dixon’s characteristic intertwining melodies been so beautifully realized as they are here by trumpeters Steven Haynes, Graham Haynes, Taylor Ho Bynum and Rob Mazurek. Clarinetist Michel Côté adds to the sense of uhr-drone that has been so integral to Dixon’s music at least as far back as “A Quiet Feeling”, and Warren Smith’s tympani almost sound like another string instrument at times. Most surprising, though, are the pointillisms that keep the music moving, the sudden ring of a single pitch on vibraphone, or a strategically bowed attack from Glynis Lomon’s cello or Ken Filiano’s bass. Dixon was too ill to play on the performance, but I was not prepared for how perfect “Shrike” would be as an insert. A brief solo trumpet recording from the Odyssey box set, it combines long tones with dots of sound, recreating Envoi’s aesthetic in microcosm. It is the perfect point of transition, bringing Dixon’s past into a vibrant present. The recording is excellent, the playing superb all round, and the result is a fitting testament to the musical universe he created.
L’ultimo intenso respiro di una grande figura musicale vissuta indebitamente nei bassifondi del mercato discografico d’elite. Un mese prima della sua scomparsa il trombettista Bill Dixon si è esibito all’ International Festival di Musique Actuelle di Victoriaville 2011, assieme a una impressionante formazione di ottoni. Lo scorrere musicale altalenante e dal possente impatto emotivo, diviso in due sezioni e con un breve epilogo, ripercorre le fasi creative della sua carriera, la sua tromba, come uno scandaglio dimensionale, ci fa rivivere le ricchezze e l’evoluzione del suo linguaggio sperimentale attraverso l’abbraccio avvolgente delle cangianti stratificazioni armoniche. La conduzione risalta la forza e la potenza dell’organico trombettistico di indubbio valore, sorretto a dovere dall’energica sezione ritmica composta da Ken Filiano e Warren Smith. Purtroppo i problemi di salute di Dixon si erano già manifestati, costringendolo a pre-registrare il solo. Emozionante il suo discorso debolmente sussurrato, ma saturo della sua profondità d’animo… Bye Bill.
Praised and reviled in equal measure during his 40-year career, Vermont-based trumpeter Bill Dixon was finally recognized as one of improvised music’s most original stylists and theorists before his death at 84 in June 2010. Fittingly his final concert took place a mere three weeks previously at Quebec’s Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, where a hand-picked octet played this composition under his direction. Luckily the performance has been released as Envoi (Victo Records Victo cd 120). Not only do the two sections illuminate Dixon’s particular mixture of formalism and freedom, but with a horn section of four playing cornet, bugle and flugelhorn, Envoi also demonstrates Dixon’s influence on a younger generation of brass players.
Famously prickly and opinionated, Dixon organized The Jazz Composers Guild, one of jazz musicians’ first self-help organizations in the mid-1960s. A long-time professor at Bennington College in Vermont, Dixon recorded sparingly over the years, which makes this session doubly valuable. Impressionistic and dramatic, Envoi is organized with classical precision in varied sequences. Most involve muted, shaded bent notes from the brass players in counterpoint to the spiccato string swipes of cellist Glynis Loman and bassist Ken Filiano, or, in the first section, tart slurs from Michel Côté’s bass clarinet. Additional unifying motifs come from Warren Smith’s resounding kettle drumming, and, in the second section, his ringing vibes, which soften the interface as it moves forward. In that same section the unison strings maintain a menacing undertow, breached only occasionally by heraldic brassiness or dissonant grace notes, plus at one point echoing stillness from Graham Hayes’ bugle. True to Dixon’s style, most of the brass tones are segmented sound shards which waft pure air through the horns. Following nearly 40 minutes of quivery tremolo theme variations, a spectacular example of the trumpeter’s measured art arrives near the end. After one cornetist sounds heraldic tones at a higher pitch among the others’ capillary whispers, all harmonize for a protracted section of legato impressionism, only scattering at the end as one puffs quietly while another exposes plunger tones. Finally, call-and-response vamping from all marks the climax.
In a recent article on the late great trumpeter Bill Dixon (1925-2010), the newspaper’s purported photo of Dixon was actually a photo of multi-instrumentalist Giuseppi Logan. Jazz fans were understandably miffed by the blatant error; as Squid’s Ear writer Kurt Gottschalk wryly noted on Facebook, “Giuseppi Logan looks about as much like Bill Dixon as a saxophone looks like a trumpet.”
And yet, it’s highly probable that Dixon would have been amused by the snafu. In jazz historian Ben Young’s essential bio-discography Dixonia, Dixon states, “The way to get me away from something is have everybody dig it — then I’m off and running.” Dixon was a man who always went his own way, often spending years ignoring the public eye and the music marketplace. This is one of the reasons why someone of his enormous talent and intelligence is not better known, despite his major contributions to jazz history, which include his role as organizer and producer of the seminal October Revolution in Jazz in 1964, as well as founder of the equally seminal Jazz Composers Guild in 1965.
Releases by Dixon have always been cause for celebration, and that’s particularly true now with Envoi. A recording of Dixon and a staggeringly talented band at the 2010 Victoriaville Festival in Quebec, this turned out to be Dixon’s last concert and last recording — in fact, he died a few weeks after the festival. Envoi consists of two long sections performed by nine musicians, including Taylor Ho Bynum, Ken Filiano, and the luminous Warren Smith. Dixon provided the music and the direction, and although he didn’t actually play at the concert, he provided a brief prerecorded solo at the beginning of Section II entitled Shrike. The solo is a powerhouse: Dixon shreds sound, and then shreds those shreds in an absolute burning fury.
Overall Envoi is a stunningly beautiful work that the listener will return to again and again. The work has the grandeur and mystery of the Miles Davis-Gil Evans’ masterpiece Sketches of Spain, but unlike that work, where a perfectly aligned orchestra provides a steady foil for Davis, the horns here have no security whatsoever. Foreground and background shift constantly as the brass drops back and the rhythm section moves forward, and beautiful melodic lines often end abruptly or dissolve into distortion. Dixon has created a field of sound where just about anything can emerge, and as each section unfolds the listener is entranced by the harmonic interweaving, and enfolded into the music’s profound emotional depths.
The word “envoi” means a brief stanza that concludes certain forms of poetry, and one can certainly look at this concert as a work that concludes a long and important career. The CD itself also has an envoi: at the end of the concert the audience breaks into enthusiastic applause, and then Dixon makes the following statement: “It is not so easy to attempt doing what you want to do in front of people who know what they would like for you to do. So, one does one’s best, always, and one hopes for the best, always. Thank you.”
Envoi is an indispensable release. Period.