April 29, 2001
BILL DIXON/ARCHIE SHEPP
Historical documents sometimes give the contemporary listener a new perspective of the past. It's the same with reissues. This thought-provoking disc, divided between a Bill Dixon 7-Tette and Archie Sheep's New York Contemporary 5 (NYC5), show that in many cases the seemingly monolithic New Thing of the mid-1960s was as diverse as its participants.
Recorded after the music had announced its broad presence following the Dixon-organized October Revolution concert series and before Shepp became a known quantity with his Impulse Records discs, the session pinpoints the divergent paths of the erstwhile partners.
To deal with the sparingly-recorded figure first, trumpeter Dixon — who would soon devote most of his time to his university teaching post at Bennington College — seems more wedded to a certain compositional traditional than he would when he began recording again in earnest in the 1980s. His septet of four horns, two basses and a drummer uses a framework of pulsative time, with all the themes related back to a central leitmotif.
In size and conception seemingly related to mid-1950s modernism practiced by arranger/composers Teddy Charles, George Russell and Gil Evans, the emphasis here is on the group rather than the soloists. Furthermore, while he hadn't yet perfected the note-chary minimalism that characterized his 1990s work, Dixon still appears to be the most liberated player here. His this-side-of-off-key forays mark him as someone unafraid of the trumpet's limitations. Ornette Coleman veteran bassist David Izenzon and the little-known Hal Dodson seems to be some of the few other here musicians able to take advantage of the new freedom. Their alternately bowing and plucking teamwork, especially apparent on "Alternate Study of Section III Letter F", would be taken farther and into more abstract forms by others later in the decade and beyond.
Other standout soloists include tenor saxophonist George Barrow, best known for his work with Charles Mingus a few years before, and baritone saxist Howard Johnson, who only brought out the tuba he's now famous for playing in the ensembles. The oboe of Ken McIntyre, who too soon would also become an academic, was mostly used for sonic color.
From a 2001 standpoint, the NYC5, seemingly heavily influenced by the original Ornette Coleman Quartet, sounds like a modern swinging group, not the revolutionary cell it appeared to be at the time. Sun Ra stalwart bassist Ronnie Boykins and McRae, Dixon's drummer of the day before, are responsible for the rhythm, and there are times in Shepp's "Where Poppies Bloom (Where Poppies Blow)" that references " seem to sneak in from "Night In Tunisia" of all things.
Tenorist Shepp had already developed his distinctive sweet'n'sour approach to the horn and it's his solos, which are broken up into miniscule note shards, that sound most experimental. Luckily he gets the most of the solo space. Altoist John Tchicai, more tentative than he would be on future dates, sticks very much to a modified Coleman style, with short, to-the-point work.
Meanwhile, brassmen Ted Curson or Don Cherry takes the secondary role, extending Shepp's ideas, blending their higher tones with his. Incidentally, despite what the liner notes state, Cherry is only present on his composition "Consequences", not "Like A Blessed Baby Lamb." That tune, however, ends with the sort of quasi-Dixieland coda Shepp's subsequent bands with trombonist Rosewell Rudd would develop as a trademark.
Paradoxically in the years following this bifurcated date, Dixon became more committed to pure improv, playing regularly with such European proponents as drummer Tony Oxley and bassist Barry Guy. On the other hand, Shepp — who also became a university academic in Massachusetts — gained a reputation for his reinterpretation of ballads and tenor sax standards, referring more to Ben Webster's lineage than John Coltrane's.
In the years since, some of the participants here have died and many have turned to more conventional sounds. Thus this session offers a fascinating glimpse at the new music 1964 and a foreshadowing of how the leaders' music would soon evolve.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Winter Song 1964 1.Section I Letters A,B,C,D 2. Section II Letter E 3. Section III Letter F 4. Section IV Letter G 5. Section V Letter H played three times 7. The 12th December 8. Alternate Take Section III Letter F 9. Alternate Study of Section III Letter F 10. Where Poppies Bloom (Where Poppies Blow)* 11. Like A Blessed Baby Lamb* 12. Consequences^
Personnel: [tracks 1 - 9]: Bill Dixon (trumpet); Ken McIntyre (alto saxophone and oboe); George Barrow (tenor saxophone); Howard Johnson (tuba and baritone saxophone); David Izenzon, Hal Dodson (basses); Howard McRae (drums) [tracks 10, 11, 12]: Don Cherry^ (pocket cornet); Ted Curson* (trumpet, piccolo trumpet); John Tchicai (alto saxophone); Archie Shepp (tenor saxophone); Ronnie Boykins (bass); McRae (drums)