Although the cello is not new to the idiom of jazz—Oscar Pettiford was a master of the instrument and played it often—there is very little music that has been written for this brother or, in this case sister, of the violin, viola and contrabass. Also rare is an album dedicated solely to the instrument.
Now comes Moving On, an album from the magnificent cellist, Akua Dixon and things may be about to change if this is indeed a sign that Ms. Dixon has really chosen to move on. The cellist was, after all, almost always cast in the shadow of another musician—be it trombonist Steve Turre, her own Quartette Indigo, or some other leading light in the art of music. Now Ms. Dixon is on her own and from the musical evidence on record, she has taken a huge leap of faith without the proverbial safety net, not only playing her beloved instrument, but also singing along with it.
Akua Dixon is a fascinating musician. She is a great virtuoso cellist playing almighty command of those taut strings that stretch across the somewhat elongated neck of an instrument that, because of its range and registers, is able to captivate the senses. Ms. Dixon plays the instrument almost always con arco, transposing notes and melodies, chords and harmonies into the deepest parts of the soul. Here she taps into emotions that she extracts from the soul’s vortex; she sets them free to roam in the brain and the mind of anyone who cares to listen with his or her heart and thus takes control of her listeners’ senses. Indeed, she plays with the power to control those senses. Ms. Dixon’s phrases lope and gambol, stroll and leap in great arcs carving the air as if they were great scythes. Her lines are sometimes longer and they dance and pirouette like unselfconscious ballet performers and jazz dancers responding to the prompts of their most compelling passions. Most of all there is almost no precedence for her music. She seems to play all that she does propelled by her own soul and its desires.
There is evidence of that in her terrific, bittersweet chart “Moving On”. If she intended this elegy to be a reflection of personal hurt and loss, then it most certainly reflects those emotions the melancholy tone of its harmonics. But there is also a powerful catharsis that emerges from the movement of the melody. The music begins with a series of poignant notes strung together like memories on a necklace beaded together to remind the musician of all that was beautiful once and then changes into phrases—new beads—that reek of elemental pain; of irreparable loss that she might have felt not too long ago as the phraseology of the middle section of the song suggests an inexorable ache. This mood changes into a certain ebullience as Ms. Dixon charts her solo ever forward as she literally distances herself from that emotion and reaches above to soar on an emotional thermal once more. This song is just one of the high points of this record.
The other song is “Black is Beautiful” on which Ms. Dixon literally does a star turn as a vocalist who exudes so much power that she recalls to mind not just Nina Simone and Betty Carter but also the legendary Abbey Lincoln and Billie Holiday. While her voice certainly may be liked to Ms. Simone and Ms. Carter, Akua Dixon proves that she can cast a mesmerising narrative web as only Abbey Lincoln and Billie Holiday could. There is a sense that Ms. Dixon’s pride and Afro-centricity bursts out of the song like an emotion that is too powerful to hide. This was always the hallmark of Ms. Lincoln’s and Ms. Holliday (and indeed that of Nina Simone and Betty Carter as well).
Akua Dixon also does magical things on the Charlie Parker classic, “Confirmation,” especially as she combines with the other superb instrumentalist—guitarist Ron Jackson—on this record. But the music that captivates at the end of the record is remarkable and worth noticing for the virtuoso performance of Ms. Dixon. Here she displays her “chops” most joyfully. Also, both “With My Heart” and “Whatever” are displays of great of great pomp and circumstance and in the nicest way possible almost proud statements of the cellist’s command and control of her instrument. The songs also bode extremely well for Ms. Dixon’s future as a musician and instrumentalist as she most certainly will chart her own course as one of the leading lights of the cello in any form of music with her compositions on that instrument as well as with her astounding virtuosity as well.
Tracks: Determination; Mañha De Carnaval; Moving On; Black Is Beautiful; A Gozar Con Mi Combo; Confirmation; With All My Heart; Whatever.
Personnel: Akua Dixon: cello, Yamaha Silent Cello (3), voice (4); Ron Jackson: guitar; Kenny Davis: bass (1 – 3); Dwayne Burno: bass (4 – 8); Jaimeo Brown: drums (1 – 3); Willie Jones III: drums (4 – 7); Ignacio Berroa: drums (8).
Akua Dixon on the Web: www.akuadixon.com
Label: Dixon Music
Release date: March 2012
Reviewed by: Raul da Gama