You can stand in one spot and blow a mountain down. You can dance around everything and not move a butterfly. It's the concentration of the energy: singular, and when it's compressed within the confines of the group. And that's when the excitement happens that enables you to create that aura, so when you want to play something delicate, it seems even more fragile.
(Dixon, in 'Going to the Center')
It is worth noting that all of this new work is framed within/arises from the context/effect of age/longevity on physicality coupled with stored experience, sustained study and daily experimentation. Just as one hears a timbral shift in the late work of singers (the past ten years of Abby Lincoln’s work) or wind players (compare/contrast Ben Webster as ‘rabbit’ with twenties Ellington to his ballad work with Art Tatum at the Patio Lounge in 1956: air as tone/note) that simultaneously evidences un-invited/welcome limitation while opening a doorway to new musical pathways, Dixon’s currently decreased employment of upper register multiphonics reflects organic change and the artist’s use of what is available to create new work.
On Berlin Abbozzi, we hear Dixon alternate between electronically-treated work--the basis for much of the lengthy centrepiece, 'Open quiet/the orange bell'--and untreated work for muted trumpet. It’s hard to know which sounds more fragile (a favourite Dixon word): on the final track, ‘Acrolithes’, both the electronically-reinforced delay work, with its emphasis on extended silence and on texture (popping, blasting, gusting, whispering) over melody or even ‘note’ as such, and the more traditionally lyrical muted timbre of the acoustic trumpet, heard ruminating aloud about a third of the way through, seem to bring out different aspects of Dixon’s playing within each other, not so much as mutually reinforcing balance (weight/counterweight) as constantly morphing dialectic. And so, even as Dixon's playing, in his final recordings, moved further and further away from the (acoustic) note/melody approach to that of (electronic) tone/sound/noise, you can hear the ghosts of the former in the latter.
The work is silent when it is left behind, and turns its emptiness outward.
Showers of breaths, whispers, grunts, sudden blarts and blasts of noise, at once vocalic and machine-like, an aeolian series of gusts, eddies, and other airborne movements and a focused study in extension, decay and the perception of time. As Dixon remarked in a 2002 interview: "There is a feeling tone that has propulsion and the ambience of an enclosure that permits being inside the enclosure or riding the crest of it. It is hard to explain. One has to listen and try to get inside of the sound." The use of the term abbozzi provides one way in, referring as it does to the underpainting whose monochromatic base provides definition for the colour values in layers painted over it. Dixon again:
I like to do multiple layers. If it is done right, I can play three lines simultaneously. There is no trick to it. If I place the delay properly and long enough, I can play something against that, and something against that. That is my interest at this particular point. Reverberation takes the dryness out of the tone. I use three mikes: one for delay, one for reverberation, and a clear mike.
In producing the album without liner notes--in contrast, for instance, to the extended essays by Stephen Haynes and Bynum on Tapestries, and its release alongside Robert O'Haire's 30-minute documentary filmed at the recording sessions--Dixon more than ever seeks to focus attention on the sound alone. Given this, the words above feel so much preamble to an event that they can never hope to capture. It's hard to give the music a chronological summary, given its meditative refusal of narrative, programme, or anything but the quiet intensity of its moment of unfolding. Perhaps it's architectural--the title to the first piece, named for Le Corbusier's studio, suggests so; or perhaps it's painterly--as per the title to the third, 'Contrapposto'. Or perhaps, as Dixon has himself admitted, the titles are a kind of poetic extension that comes after the fact rather than the determining shape of the piece.
There is no special way to view or see or hear. Make up stories if it makes you more comfortable. Find the music programmatic, but know it wasn't done that way. The music and the dance are what they are. There are no stories, no symbols. One day we won't even have titles--or our titles will be poems in their own right.
(Dixon, quoted in the liner notes to Intents and Purposes)For me, the album concentrates the most into the twelve minutes of the second track, 'Hirado'. The piece leads off from a typical Dixon melody--three notes, spaced out and cracking round the edges--extended and delivered with such gravity and ferocious single-mindedness of tone that the minimal becomes maximal, a world contained in the progression from tone to tone, semitone to semitone. Feldman's work with the simplest of melodies in pieces like 'For Philip Guston' comes to mind--though their approaches are very different--here amplified by Siegel and Hall's use of resonant, chiming vibraphone like something directly out of late Feldman (and specifically, the Guston piece). Unlike Feldman, however, the concern isn't so much with interlocking series of melodic lines--an interlocking carpet-weave of patterns--but with a more constantly morphing texture. Gently, the three players seem to chase each other, become their own ghosts, echoing and spiralling out and giving the effect of additional players; or the trio concentrate down to seem like one spectral voice; and at any point, they seem conscious that they might as well shut up if they have nothing more beautiful to say than the silence around them. On a series of deep notes that push deeper and deeper, foghorn through the fog, dungchen from the mountaintop, the music transitions into flurries of activity, rolling glockenspiel and rolling drums that have picked up a clattery thing or two from Dixon's long-term collaborator, Tony Oxley. A succession of deep notes and breaths take things suddenly out: the sudden recession of the wind, the stilling of eddies on the waters, a cloud moving out of sight.