Musician, composer and educator Bill Dixon is one of the key figures in the history of jazz’s New Thing, not only integral as organizer of the storied October Revolution in Jazz, but also as the catalyst for a defining document from the era, RCA Victor’s 1967 issue of Intents and Purposes by The Bill Dixon Orchestra. Once a highly elusive artifact, it’s become much easier to hear of late and on January 27 gets a vinyl reissue by Superior Viaduct. Coincidentally, Dixon’s recording debut, Savoy’s 1962 release of the sole self-titled album by the Archie Shepp – Bill Dixon Quartet is getting a repress by Jeanne Dielman. It serves as an enlightening prologue to Dixon’s later masterworks, while being totally worthy on its own.
The greatest compliment one can pay to the late Bill Dixon is that he was a great teacher, but a complicating side-effect of his dedication to the creative development of numerous first-rate musicians (including cornetist Rob Mazurek, drummer Jackson Krall, and saxophonist Marco Eneidi) is that it diverted him away from the recording studio and for a time diminished his deserved standing as an innovator in the jazz avant-garde; to quote Dixon, from 1970-1976 he existed “in total isolation from the market places of this music.”
Even prior to his long stay at Vermont’s Bennington College, which commenced in 1968 (and lasted until his retirement from teaching in 1996), Dixon’s appearances on record were few; they in fact total four, with the first and last covered in this review. The discographical slimness (especially in jazz terms) meant that many younger ears hungry for free jazz nourishment (such as this writer and surely others) received their introduction to Dixon’s playing via a stone killer in the annals of ’60’s “out” jazz, namely Cecil Taylor’s second masterpiece for the Blue Note label, Conquistador!