David Bixler: The Nearest Exit May Be Inside Your Head (2012)
Saxophonist David Bixler's ties to pianist Arturo O'Farrill have had positive and negative consequences. The positives are a raised profile, a fairly steady gig for twelve years and counting, and the opportunity to paint atop brilliantly arranged Latin platforms of varying shapes, colors and sizes for audiences around the world. So, one might wonder, what could possibly be negative about this connection, and the answer comes with one simple word: pigeonholing.
This saxophonist isn't bound to a single style, but O'Farrill fans may not know it or care. Bixler is a musician with a broad background that extends into varied corners of the musical world. His skills go far beyond the realm of Latin jazz and this album sets the record straight. Bixler sheds his Latin garb for this program, preferring instead to wear a coat of many jazz colors that suits him well. He deals in non-forceful funk with attitude ("Perfected Surfaces"), Bobby Timmons/Sonny Clark-style hard bop with modern undertones ("Vida Blue"), slow and hip, odd-metered fare ("Arise") and pseudo-balladic material that builds beyond those borders with an instrumental entanglement ("Vanishing Point").
Mellower moods surface on "The Darkness Is My Closest Friend" and swing has its day on "Thinking Cap," but Latin music only surfaces in the shifting grooves of the title track. Bixler wrote all of the material for this date and he puts his own unique compositional fingerprints on all of these styles, demonstrating that he's a true double-threat as composer and performer.
While the saxophonist turned to a diverse and well-rounded cast for The Auction Project (Zoho, 2010), which was a unique Afro-Celtic collaboration with O'Farrill, the stellar lineup from his own Call It A Good Deal (Zoho, 2006) returns for this date. Trumpeter Scott Wendholt is the perfect front line partner for Bixler, as both men blend well, solo with similar sensibilities and occasionally duke it out, and guitarist John Hart moves between the role of rhythm man and soloist with ease. Bassist Ugonna Okegwo directs the music from below and delivers a gripping solo introduction to "Arise," and drummer Andy Watson finds the right feel for each piece.
Bixler has garnered plenty of attention for his contributions to O'Farrill's music over the years, but this album makes it clear that it's time to give him his due for his own winning work.
Track Listing: Perfected Surfaces; Vanishing Point; Vida Blue; Three Dog Years; The Nearest Exit May Be Inside Your Head; Arise; Thinking Cap; The Darkness Is My CLosest Friend; Goat Check.
Personnel: David Bixler: alto saxophone; John Hart: guitar; Scott Wendholt: trumpet; Ugonna Okegwo: bass; Andy Watson: drums.