At WSJ on Akua Dixon

‘Akua’s Dance’ by Akua Dixon Review: An Ode to the Cello’s Versatility

On her latest album, the cellist offers a wide range of originals, jazz repertoire and pop tunes.

Akua Dixon

Akua Dixon Photo: James Rich

For decades, the cello has been on the fringes of jazz. The outstanding bassists, Oscar Pettiford and Ron Carter, occasionally recorded on the instrument, and cellists like Abdul Wadud,Diedre Murray and Fred Lonberg-Holm have been cornerstones of avant garde recordings and groups. Akua Dixon has forged a solid career playing and arranging string sections and with her own innovative recordings. Her latest, “Akua’s Dance,” out Friday on her own Akua’s Music imprint, features unique ensembles and stunning arrangements on a wide range of originals, jazz repertoire and pop tunes.

On several tracks for this recording, Ms. Dixon swaps out her cello for a baritone violin, a similar instrument with a slightly larger body and a deeper, richer tone. On the first track, the briskly paced original “I Dream a Dream,” her sound is reminiscent of the trombone lines heard in the Juan Tizol/Duke Ellington classic “Caravan.” The resemblance may not be coincidental; Ms. Dixon wants her instruments to be heard as natural lead voices in a conventional jazz ensemble. Her band features guitarist Freddie Bryant, bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Victor Lewis, with guest appearances by guitarist Russell Malone and by Mr. Carter, with whom Ms. Dixon performed on the 1972 Archie Shepp recording “The Cry of My People” (Impulse!).

Ms. Dixon’s gambits are among the recording’s highlights. “The Sweetest Taboo,” which was a pop hit for Sade in 1985-86, is played straightforwardly by the ensemble here—capturing its slinky vibe until Ms. Dixon’s captivating solo elevates the tune, taking it into new dimensions. Ms. Dixon sings the lead on Abbey Lincoln’s plaintive “Throw It Away,” and her tone broadens the defiant and reassuring words. Her tracks on cello with Mr. Carter on bass are telling. Ms. Dixon’s lines alternate from puckish and crisp to gentle elegance, providing a distinctive contrast to Mr. Carter’s cashmere tones.

Ms. Dixon, who is 68, has ruminated about doing recordings like this for decades. She cites playing with James Brown at the Apollo Theater and as a founding member of the Max Roach Double Quartet as helping her realize that the cello could adapt to jazz phrasing and should be a lead voice. She led Quartette Indigo, a string quartet, but found herself in bass-like roles in that ensemble. With this recording, Ms. Dixon joins the ranks of Jane Scarpantoni in rock and Maya Beiser in classical music—performers who have expanded the range of their instrument and made an indelible mark on their genres. “Akua’s Dance” will show younger cellists the possibilities for their instrument in jazz.

Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

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About jmartin437

I've worked in and around the world of high end cheese for 27 years. I've been everything from a department manager who hired and fired and trained staffs to a weekend warrior who shows up ties on an apron the middle of a rush and talks to customers and cleans up the place. I enjoy it all, and I especially like my current situation conducting informal seminars about cheese at area bars and in class at the 92nd St. Y. The current schedule is always up at thejoyofcheese.blogspot.com. In addition I conduct private events that are perfect to lead off birthday parties for foodies and sommeliers and also they make great entertainment for corporate team building events and associates meetings at law firms. In addition, I've been a freelance journalist for 27 years. Currently my profiles of leading musicians and filmmakers appear in the Wall Street Journal and www.theroot.com. I also wrote about sports for the Root, and for five loooong years, which included the entirety of the Isiah Thomas Knicks era, I wrote about the NBA for the New York Sun. I enjoyed writing about basketball so much that I now do it here at rotations for free.
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