Record review: Bill Dixon With Exploding Star Orchestra (Thrill Jockey)


Not many artists can take the pulse of a whole underclass and make you feel it like avant trumpeter-composer Bill Dixon: He’s been at it since before the Beatles. Here he’s strapped into the yoke with Chicago cornetist Rob Mazurek and 11 other raging bulls, and damn if they don’t bust your bones with the throb of it all.

Dixon has always achieved maximum impact by securing plenty of ballast, this time with two bassists and two drummers, one of whom (Mike Reed) also pounds timpani. They rumble heavy right out of the gate on Dixon’s “Entrances” as iridescent vibes chime, bells clatter, Jeb Bishop’s trombone growls and the whole thing grows under Ra-like heat. You’re tumbling in an ectoplasmic womb until shuddering crescendos of massed horns writhe through the stages of explosive life steaming in a cosmic kettle beneath a horizonwide pig-iron lid: The atmosphere of stifled rage, accented by Jason Ajemian’s ankle-gnawing bowed bass, just reeks.

Dixon recapitulates that 18 minutes in a second 18 of “Entrances” that closes the album like the other jaw of the apocalyptic vise. (18=3x6.) An elephant-butt charge coalesces in desperate struggles alternating with exhausted collapses into nauseated sleep, and when you hear one eye slowly reopen, you know you better get the hell away from that beast -- or get on its back.

Mazurek’s 24-minute “Constellations for Innerlight Projections” is pressed between the two “Entrances” but hardly contained. Basses, Matt Bauder’s bass clarinet, Nicole Mitchell’s flute and Jason Adasiewicz’s vibraphone breathe along with chanter Damon Locks’ introductory admonitions to “Push from the center” and to realize, in both senses, that “There is no time.” Then . . . I don’t want to spoil the drama, but Mazurek fully utilizes the large ensemble, and if like me you had your volume set for shield-bashing heavy metal, your speakers will be grateful if you back it off a couple of notches.

Not too much, though. You want to feel the pulse.