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Published: 2008/02/24
by Randy Ray

self titled – Bill Dixon with the Exploding Star Orchestra

Thrill Jockey 192

Difficult music by its very nature isnt supposed to include digestible sequences. This form of musicoften improvisatory but not necessarilyis meant to either divert the listener from any preconceived path, whereby one either enjoys the work, winces at alleged self-indulgence or runs screaming from the room. And difficult jazzlets go even further: difficult free jazz — can get even more cumbersome for the tricky-earred.
Case in point, Bill Dixon and his uncompromising artistic career which has included a two-decade stint at Vermonts Bennington College as a faculty member, founder of the Free Conservatory of the University of the Streets in New York City and 40-plus years as a textural trumpet player whose recorded output has been rather low.
Enter bandleader Rob Mazurek of the Exploding Star Orchestra, a group of young, overachieving Chicago musicians who mix avant-garde and free jazz with intriguing results. Their debut, We Are All from Somewhere Else stretched boundaries, echoing late model John Coltrane and the long career of Ornette Coleman. The union of Dixon and ESO makes for a wonderfully sublime bit of difficult, free jazz head music. Indeed, the impact suggests giants fighting during apocalyptic thunder before the dreamy conflict concludes as one floats into warm, dense space.

The two 18-minute bookends of the three-track album are Entrances/One and Entrances/Two. These tracks appear similar but each mine their own quadrant of space post-Big Bang and pre-star implosion. Dixon is an extremely gifted horn player and his ability to modulate his breathing whereby tones bubble and percolate with uncanny abandon is quite startling. The Orchestra plays along well with the madness and matches Dixon in its own bit of weirdness that is miraculously composed and yet, filled with some really strong improvised moments. The latter Entrances/Two, which closes the album, has the mostthat word, againdigestible and vibrant space sequence that sounds like an interstellar ship slowly landing onto the surface of a distant planet.

The 24-minute sonic patchwork quilt, Constellation for Innerlight Projections (For Bill Dixon) sits betwixt the Entrances. Written by Mazurek, it is an episodic epic which somehow never loses momentum. The piece features a spoken word passage at commencement and coda and numerous sections that vary pace and instrumentationa rich cataclysmic showdown between Dixon and the Orchestra in a montage of mini film soundtracks cobbled together without a hint of editing.

Difficult is as difficult does. The music speaks for itself, combining a wide range of emotions and appears almost compassionate at times, especially the moving tubular bell sequence in the Constellation piece. Then again, there is a very fine line between crazy squonkery and well beautiful noise. The line is respected here as one can take a trip through three different wormholes inside the Starship ESO with Dixon and Mazurek exploring the inner cosmos.

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