Self Release

David Bixler (Alto Saxophone, Compositions); Mike Rodriguez (Trumpet); Jon Cowherd (Piano); Gregg August (Bass); Fabio Rojas (Percussion); Judith Ingolfsson (Violin); Heather Martin Bixler (Violin); Arthur Dibble (Viola); Rubin Kodheli (Cello); Elainie Lillios  (Electroacoustics)

Alto saxophonist and composer David Bixler has been a presence on the New York scene for more than thirty years. In that time, he has held down the alto chair in the big bands of Lionel Hampton’s with who toured internationally, and Toshiko Akiyoshi and also played in Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Big Band for over a decade.

As a solo artist, Bixler has several albums under his belt, but none as ambitious as the this. Taking his inspiration from the work of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, Bixler set out to write some music based on not the poet’s words on the subject, but taking the darker topics of hardship, injustice, racism, and death.

From what could be seen as rather joyless theme on which to hang his compositions, Bixler has written some intense yet intensely creative music for jazz quintet and string quartet along with the insightful electroacoustics of Elaine Lillios in a captivating longform piece that is the title track. In addition, there are four shorter pieces all bearing titles from Langston’s poetry in ‘Justice’, ‘Liars’, ‘End’ and Moan’.

Bixler’s score makes wonderful use of the string ensemble as the strings play with or against the jazz quintet without ever resorting to mere syrupy accompaniment. The music evolves gently and is often challenging for both the musicians and the listener. The strings are often sitting back in the mix and their contributions are subtle but telling.

On the opening ‘Justice’ the altoist plays with a rather dour tone, and elsewhere he allows his line to sing with a full sound that is always held in check, not to break the spell of the music.

‘Liars’ for example begins with and attractive statement from the strings before the morphing into a swinging section for the quintet that features some fine bass playing and great unison work from the two horns, while ‘Moan’ has an easy and relaxed theme and gentle swing feel.

The long title track at just over forty minutes duration is a tour de force with a slow emotional build up. Bixler takes an impressive solo that travels through an ethereal backdrop. This in turn evolves into a groove that is picked up by the string quartet and gradually develops into a swing section. This episodic nature continues throughout the composition embracing straight ahead contemporary jazz, classical music, improvisation and abstraction.

As mentioned earlier, the music demands a lot form the listener but is ultimately rewarding. It does however state a good case for making the title track one complete single album, and holding back the other pieces for a separate and second volume as it takes a certain resolve to listen to the whole album in its entirety.