Saxophonist David Bixler’s New Album Mixes It Up
In linguistics they call it code-switching: Me gusto this crazy band. Alto saxophonist David Bixler does this all the time throughout his new album The Nearest Exit May Be Inside Your Head. The language inside his head, as becomes clear right from the opening track, is hard bop. Over and over, he defiantly resists any kind of resolution to a consonant major or minor scale. And yet, his harmonies in tandem with trumpeter Scott Wendholdt are meticulous, and often exquisitely attractive. There’s also a definite harmonic language to what Bixler is playing: it just happens to be his own. The tension between the two idioms pretty much defines what he does here, along with the rest of the band: guitarist John Hart, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Andy Watson.
Those vibrant horn harmonies fuel the lively opening track, Perfected Surfaces. They follow more pensively on Vanishing Point, Okegwo’s terse, bouncing lines trading with Bixler and Wendholdt before it morphs into a jazz waltz with an unexpected crescendo. The briskly swinging Vida Blue – a homage to the legendary bon vivant baseball pitcher – looks back twenty years prior to Blue’s 70s heyday for its purist, blues-infused hooks, pulled off with considerable exuberance by Wendholdt and Bixler. Like he does several of the tracks here, Hart absolutely owns the thoughtful Three Dog Years – his matter-of-factly crescendoing solo weaves back and forth from oldschool blues and soul, always swinging back to grab hold solidly when it threatens to fly off into never-neverland. Latin allusions, gritty staccato guitar and animated yet pensive trumpet dominate throughout the title track, while Okegwo’s tense solo bass hands off to yet more soulful guitar, and then a potently misty Bixler solo on the next cut, Arise.
Arturo O’Farrill – a frequent Bixler collaborator, who provides extremely detailed and insightful liner notes that are hard to resist nicking verbatim – describes Thinking Cap as “quirky swing with great independence between the voices,” which is spot-on: Bixler’s acerbic, Charlie Rouse-flavored lines into Wendholt’s seamless trumpet make for one of the album’s high points. Another high point is Hart’s alternately spiraling and chordally-charged solo on The Darkness Is My Closest Friend, which actually is far less moody than the title would indicate. The final, funky cut, Goat Check – ostensibly a study in orneriness – once again showcases Hart’s irrepressible melodicism against Wendholt’s jauntiness and Bixler’s more opaque lines. Who is the audience for this? The hard bop crowd, to be sure, not to mention fans of guitar jazz, who will devour this thing. It’s out on O’Farrill’s Zoho label.
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