Rob Dixon Trio, with Charlie Hunter and Mike Clark – Coast To Crossroads (2018)

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Indianapolis legend saxman Rob Dixon has broken out with a serious case of the funk and it’s highly contagious. Coast To Crossroads is a very rare date led by him — only the second one, not counting one co-helmed by Wes Montgomery’s organ player Melvin Rhyne — and that was ten years ago.

Dixon has had plenty of mentions in this space, but none since 2011, when the Headhunters’ Platinum was set for release. That’s an album that featured Headhunter drumming legend Mike Clark with Dixon in a guest role. But Dixon has hardly been quiet. He’s toured plenty lately in guitarist Charlie Hunter’s band and the time together rekindled an old conversation about the guitarist appearing on a Dixon-led project (Dixon’s attempt to get Hunter on his Dixon-Rhyne Project record Reinvention didn’t quite pan out and Dixon had to ‘settle’ for the fabulous Fareed Haque).

Finally, Hunter offered to produce Dixon’s date as well as play in it, and Clark was brought in to complete the trio. Hunter fans know that his seven-string guitar essentially makes this a soul-jazz quartet, as Hunter at once plays both bass and guitar perfectly set up to emulate a Hammond B3 organ. Trombonist Ernest Stuart was brought in on some of the tracks to add more horn punch, when needed.

Hunter’s role as producer has been especially invaluable in stripping down Dixon’s songs to its elements, chucking aside any sections that might clutter the mission. And his first-hand familiarity with Dixon put him an in uniquely good position to know what works best to maximize all that’s good about Dixon. But Clark played a role in shaping Dixon’s compositions, too, because Dixon wrote his tunes with Clark’s utterly linear funk drumming style in mind.

Clark excels at making his presence known in the company of strong musical personalities, and he does so here. That sweet shuffle of his on “Yo” is something you can’t ignore even as Dixon is expertly exploiting that groove on alto sax. A tough blues shuffle underpins “Millions,” perfectly synchronized between Clark and Hunter’s bass strings, which walk up higher to match the energy of Dixon’s sax solo. Clark applies some Bay Area styled movement to “San Leandro,” which has all four musicians operating as a solid-state funk machine and once again, Hunter’s bass is right in Clark’s elusive pocket.

Hearing Dixon and Stuart harmonize on thematic lines as on “Memphis Bus Stop” over a bed of soul-funk calls to mind the classic days of The Crusaders, and even though Dixon’s big sax tone is more rounded out at the edges than Wilton Felder’s, his diction is similar. Terence Trent Darby’s “Wishing Well” is taken down just a notch from the original thanks mainly to Clark applying the brushes but all the catchiness is retained and Dixon and Hunter memorably ‘recite’ a verse together on guitar and sax during a short break in the action. Putting a harmonizer on a sax is automatically a salute to the late Eddie Harris and Dixon does his own funky homage to the sax great on the too brief “Nag Champa.” And “87 MPH” is another short number, a quick-tempo shuffle featuring Dixon jamming with Stuart in tow.

The whole affair ends with an authentically delivered a cappella saxophone performance of the standard ballad “It Could Happen To You”

It’s Rob Dixon’s record, which makes pretty clear that we get treated to his musical vision all too infrequently. But the other real treat on this record is that there are two other stars present and they get to do a lot of the things that’s made them great as well. This is funk-jazz that’s the best because it comes from the best.

The self-released Coast To Crossroads is now out. Order a CD or vinyl copy from Rob Dixon’s website.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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