Akua Dixon has finally come out from the background with a demonstrative debut recording as a solo artist. The eight selections spotlight her talents as a cellist, composer-arranger and as a vocalist. In 1971, Dixon started freelancing at the Apollo Theater working with the likes of James Brown. At that time she too worked in a predominantly African American Symphony Orchestra, “The Symphony of the New World.” After performing a concert with Duke Ellington she was transformed and determined to learn as much about the music of her culture given that her focus, to that point, had been studying European Classical music. Though classically trained she always had a concept on how to present her music and the music that she heard growing up and in church. In light of her great success with String Quartets I asked why she has now chosen to feature the cello as a solo instrument. According to Dixon, “In Jazz the cello has been rarely used, there are violinists and bassists. I wanted to play the language of Jazz on the cello and play the changes, the rhythm and groove of it, with a bow.”
From the outset Moving On establishes her writing and soloing skills. Four of the tunes are original. Dixon acknowledges, “European Classical music has different eras and definition of sound, so does Jazz music.” Her opening tune, “Determination”, is an obscure melody, 12-bar blues, written in 5/4, not harmonized in the usual thirds. It is a modal song reminiscent of avant-Garde music and gives a nod to McCoy Tyner’s voicing’s from his modal period. Drummer, Jaimeo Brown carries the rhythm while Dixon plays the dissonant chord structure of the melody followed by, guitarist, Ron Jackson who plays inside the melody. The title track, “Moving On”, is a Funk/R&B rhythm similar to that played by Grover Washington, Jr. and Noel Pointer. Dixon played a Yamaha Silent Cello giving it the “funky” feel. A beautiful, haunting song, “With All My Heart” is a waltz that features the lovely, tasteful drumming of Willie Jones, III.
Dixon’s arranging skills are impressive. For “Manha de Carnaval” she started off with a pretty intro using her skillful bowing while Ron Jackson plays a flamenco rhythm giving the piece a loose Latin feel. Years ago Dixon worked with several Latin bands. The string parts were written and the cello was seldom featured to solo. Having played and recorded with Israel “Cachao” Lopez, her hip, danceable, arrangement of “A Gozar” is a tribute to him.
Her rendition of “Confirmation” is not only a testament to Max Roach, but also a confirmation of her phrasing skills. Dixon explains, “The phrasing of Charlie Parker is not the typical bowing studied in a Conservatory. I was blessed to play a Cecil Bridgewater chart “Bird Says” with the original Max Roach Double Quartet. With Max I studied the phrasing of Be-Bop.” By opening with only cello and guitar she shows the technical aspect of the instrument, its’ rhythmical phrasing and bowing on the, harmonically challenging, Charlie Parker composition.
Blessed with vocal chops, we do not hear much of Dixon vocally. Heavily influenced by Nina Simone and the melisma style of Betty Carter, the emotion that she instills, in her rendition of “Black is Beautiful”, recorded one time, by Nancy Wilson, is truly stirring. The mallet feel of the drums creates a relaxed sense of time that is open enough to allow a strong sense of space that almost sounds out of time.
As the title implies, Moving On is a double entendre. Dixon has transitioned to another direction personally and musically. Among other life changes, over the last several years, the loss of her sister, Gayle, with whom she’d worked, hit hard. She did not think that she would ever play string quartets again but music is healing. During that period, Dixon said, “I started seriously developing this band, this concept, moving on. I love the cello in this context as a solo instrument. “The last song on the CD, “Whatever”, sums up her current state of mind. Dixon continues, “in order to move on you have to let some things go, even musically. To play this music, with a rhythm section, I had to let go of a lot of what I was used to doing as a cellist in a string quartet. It didn't work in this environment, so I chose to adapt.”
Moving On is a terrific recording! Akua Dixon has not only assembled a great body of work, she has used musicians with whom she has chemistry. They all have a tremendous musical background and have performed and recorded in a variety of settings. This recording is the embodiment of a lifetime of study and growth. She has stepped out and made her statement that she is out front and happy!