Jordon Dixon is a Washington-D.C. based emerging tenor saxophonist with a big fat sound that owes in part to Stanley Turrentine and Dexter Gordon. As a bandleader on this, his second album, he fronts a quartet/quintet that includes the brilliant Allyn Johnson on piano and the rhythm duo of bassist Herman Burney and drummer Carroll V. Dashiell. On two selections, trumpeter J.S. Williams climbs aboard and blasts away. Johnson has been the director of the Jazz Program at the University of the District of Columbia since 2005 and was also at the keys for Dixon’s debut, A Conversation Among Friends. His playing not only compliments Dixon but shines in his adventurous McCoy Tyner-like soloing.
Dixon’s compositions course through a variety of moods and tempos, touching on infectious grooves revealing inventive solos across a mix of gritty hard bop and tasteful soul jazz. On the first composition, “Notes From the Nook,” his ensemble arrives with a flourish. Once Jordon Dixon offers up his melody, groove and inspired saxophone solo, Johnson lays down his own inventive conversation on the grand piano. “”Way Too Serious,” one of several standout tracks, opens with Dixon’s jaunty melodic phrases which later give way to both a bass solo and some elegant piano work from Johnson before the ensemble approach resumes. The almost nine minute ballad “What You’ve Done For Me” is like a vintage Turrentine tune from his early Blue Note period with Dixon displaying soulful chops backed by Johnson’s sensitive, sensual piano.
The mid-tempo “We Kin,” which begins with percussion rolls brings a gentle Afro-Cuban feel for Dixon’s tenor excursions, pushed by Johnson’s chording and the in-synch rhythm section to gain momentum, making way for another strong Johnson solo, before returning to the opening theme. The title tune, “On!” begins as a lush ballad (yes, Coltrane’s “Lush Life” comes to mind initially) before transforming into a hard bop swaggering piece.
“Flame and Friction,” another standout track at nine minutes, begins with a blues-inspired upright bass, building our curiosity as first Johnson enters with chords and light brush work from drummer Dashiell, setting the stage for the theme delivered by Dixon and trumpeter J.S. Williams. This leads to several call and response passages, and later some fiery bluesy soul jazz soloing from each horn. This one alone is worth giving Dixon and combo a good listen. The swinging hard bop romp of “Lee Lee Dee” follows before we get another ultra-bluesy sensitive ballad in “She Meant It When She Said It,” that uses spaces cleverly to accentuate the emotional nature of the piece.
Dixon is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana who began playing saxophone at twelve-years-old. By the time he was a teen, you could see him sitting-in at the local jam sessions where folks realized and praised his talent and determination. His Louisiana upbringing is heard clearly in the swinging “Fake Flowers,” the other tune featuring the bluesy trumpet of Williams. It has the same chord structure as “When the Saints Go Marching In” and features Dashiell’s drum solo full of parade rhythms. The album concludes with an alternative, just as worthy version of the opening “Notes From the Nook,” with organ added to the piano to enhance the soul jazz feel.
When he turned nineteen, Dixon joined the U.S. Marines and for the next eleven years, he played with their orchestra. Once honorably discharged, he pursued a music education degree at UDC., where he met Johnson. Dixon was heralded by the Washington City Paper as “the Best Tenor Saxophonist of 2016.” This album clearly supports that accolade and should bring him greater acclaim outside the region. Sorry, D.C., you can’t harbor this secret much longer; the rest of the world needs to hear this talented player.
This may be old school jazz, but soul jazz and hard bop never grow old, especially in the hands of cats like this. Dixon is one of the most exciting new tenor players to come along and will be a major force going forward.
- Jim Hynes