David Bixler & Arturo O'Farrill - The Auction Project (2010 Zoho)
In an unexpected musical crossover, Arturo O’Farrill and David Bixler make a fully successful blend of the Irish and the Afro-Cuban. Call it Irish-Afro. Call it world jazz. Call me sentimental, but I’ve been to my homeland of Ireland and I’ve been known in a pugnacious moment to cite my Celtic roots; call me provincial, but I like living in Miami and I’ve been known, on a good day, to distinguish a triple-pulse son clave from a rhumba clave. When the press kit arrived for The Auction Project, as much respect as I have for Arturo O’Farrill and the Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Orchestra, I have to admit that I was skeptical about this release. But it works. Whatever you call the music on The Auction Project, it’s good, and it swings more than a sheleighly keeping time on a timbale.
Bixler, in the liner notes, describes his interest in how his Julliard trained wife was studying Irish fiddling. “Irish music,” he writes, “was like jazz in a lot of ways, except people liked it.” In truth, Irish folk music, like jazz, is part of an aural tradition. In O’Farrill’s section of the liner notes, he is very gracious when he talks about Bixler, whose “swarthy Hispanic side” is evident almost exclusively in his playing. The sense of fun between the members of the group is clear in these words, and it’s even more clear from the music they produce. But make no mistake – The Auction Project is clearly Bixler’s handiwork, as the 8 of the 10 compositions or arrangements on the album come from the saxophonist, supported, of course, by O’Farrill on piano, by Heather Martin Bixler on violin, along with Carlo Derosa on bass, Vince Cherico on drums, and Roland Guerrero on percussion. The musical heavy lifting is done by these last four, who supply the more overtly “Irish” and “Cuban” sides of the matter.
The opening tune, “June 26th, 07” (the date when the Bixlers’ son graduated from high school) begins as a twisting, major/minor exercise, featuring Bixler’s alto winding through the progressions and polyrhythms, but when Martin Bixler’s violin joins the group after the first third of the tune, the texture changes radically, as husband and wife have a manner of playing together that, at times, sounds like a entirely new and different instrument. Bixler backs off the attack of his horn, and Martin Bixler has such a fine control of vibrato, she manages to stay perfectly in phase with the sax. O’Farrill and Derosa have fine solos on this number, as well. But we’re not really in Irish territory yet.
We reach the Isles with the next song, “The Chicken Went To Scotland” a traditional jig arranged by Bixler, who takes advantage of the fact that these melodies originally lacked harmonic structures, casting the tune in the setting of a dramatic, deep and chromatic progression of chords. The chicken is moving at a pretty steady pace at the top of the chart, but before we know it O’Farrill and Cherico are swinging the poultry all over the place without losing the essential jig of the song.
|Green Target, Jasper Johns|
“Green Target,” a composition to which we are treated two different versions of, was inspired by a Jasper Johns painting, and its fine melody is evocative of a tango – by way of abstract expressionism – and both takes feature fine but very different sets of solos from members of the group. “She Moves Through The Night,” another Bixler arrangement, offers some of my favorite playing on the album, although I suspect that this version is more through composed than some of the other tracks.
Standing out easily of all the excellent music is “Banish Misfortune” where Martin Bixler and the percussionists really make the most of the playfulness melody, then give way to a droll solo from O’Farrill, followed by a slowly building and melodic statement from Bixler. Dynamic, layered, and exhilarating, I found myself listening to this track over and over and wanting to simply get up and dance.
“Heather’s Waltz, Parts I and II” takes the listener on a voyage from a very traditional-sounding fiddle tune – in 9/8 time, no less – with the lightest possible accompaniment from O’Farrill, into a swinging jazz waltz that showcases again the Bixlers uncanny sense of unified sound, all in the midst of a truly swinging waltz. It’s a very complex performance that sounds easy in the hands of this group.
The final two tracks on the release fit well enough given the personnel, but seem adapted for the concept. “Heptagonesque,” a Bixler composition originally performed by the Anica Saxophone Quartet, is a solid tune that would find a home on almost any jazz album. “Worth Dying For” is notable for displaying Bixler carrying the weight of a song forward with only drums and percussion to back him, and the alto’s strong sense of melody serves him well, even when he seems to be playing a bit “outside” the original structure of the song.
The Auction Project is a strong release from first note to last, with no weak spots and offering music that is not only interesting and innovative, but absolutely entertaining. David Bixler's musicality runs through this work, but he’s also very fortunate to have such a remarkably adept collaborators – not the least of which is his own wife, Heather Martin Bixler
David Bixler – alto sax
Arturo O’Farrill – piano
Heather Martin Bixler – violin
Carlo Derosa – bass
Vince Cherico – drums
Roland Guerrero - percussion
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