ROB DIXON TRIO
COAST TO CROSSROADS
ROB DIXON • CHARLIE HUNTER • MIKE CLARK
(July 20, 2018 Release / Rob Dixon Music)
A powerhouse player who is equally conversant in jazz and funk, Indy saxophonist Rob Dixon joins forces with a couple of heavyweights in 7-string guitar marvel Charlie Hunter and drumming legend Mike Clark on Coast To Crossroads (July 20, 2018 release on Rob Dixon Music.
Produced by Charlie Hunter, this slamming affair finds the tenor saxophonist knee-deep in the funk of Clark’s signature Oakland funk beats and irrepressible Texas shuffles alongside Hunter’s grooving, syncopated bass lines and distinctive organ-styled comping on his hybrid axe. Trombonist Ernest Stuart, a former member of the Brooklyn-based bhangra party band Red Baraat, provides close harmonies on the frontline, playing Fred Wesley to Dixon’s Pee Wee Ellis, while adding some smoking solos of his own on half the tracks here.
“The album is called Coast to Crossroads because I’m based in Indiana, the Crossroads state, but I also work a lot on the West Coast and East Coast,” says Dixon, who hails from Atlanta but settled in Indianapolis in 2003 after spending several years on the New York City jazz scene.
Dixon’s connection with Hunter comes from three tours he did in the guitarist’s band. “I had approached Charlie a few years back about playing on my album (2008’s Reinvention by The Dixon-Rhyne Project featuring organ great and Indianapolis legend Melvin Rhyne). His schedule didn’t work out for that but we stayed in touch. When he came through Indy to play at the Jazz Kitchen, he called to say, ‘Why don’t you sit in for a couple of tunes?’ So I did and it was great fun. And after that he started calling me for tours.”
Dixon, an Indianapolis Jazz Hall of Famer, was in the middle of one of those tours with Hunter when the idea of doing a record of funky jams came up. “And we kept on talking about it until finally Charlie said, ‘Why don’t I just produce you doing a record like that? Just write some tunes and send ‘em to me and we’ll go over it.’ So I wrote a number of tunes and Charlie changed some of them, slowing down the tempo on some, taking out whole sections on others. And we had material for an album.”
The saxophonist’s hookup with Clark goes back to the drummer’s 2010 album Carnival of Soul. Dixon also joined Clark on the Headhunters’ 2011 album, Platinum. “When we decided to do a funk thing for this recording with some shuffles, I thought about drummers and finally decided, ‘Man, there is nobody else but Mike Clark!’” he says. “Nobody can play funk like him and nobody can play a shuffle like him.”
Hunter’s association with Clark goes back to the drummer’s 2000 album, Actual Proof, on which the guitarist played a key role. Philadelphia native Stuart, who is also founder of Philly’s Center City Jazz Festival, came into Dixon’s orbit when he moved to Indianapolis last year and began working locally with the saxman. All of these elements come together in copacetic fashion on this formidable bit of jazz-funk.
Coast to Crossroads kicks off with “Yo,” which has Dixon switching to bold toned alto sax alongside Stuart’s trombone on the frontline while Hunter and Clark do their funky push-and-pull thing underneath. “For that tune I thought about Mike playing funk on the East Coast,” says Dixon. “And what better vernacular to be on the East Coast than ‘yo’? So we called the tune ‘Yo.’”
The lonesome-sounding minor key “Memphis Bus Stop” was borne out of a personal experience that Dixon had 17 years ago. “I actually spent a night in a Memphis bus station when I was taking a trip from New York to San Antonio back in 2001,” he recalls. “They cancelled all the flights after 9/11 and then the very next day my uncle passed away in San Antonio. So I had to get from New York City to San Antonio and I just hopped on a Greyhound. That was a very long bus ride. It took me the better part of a week to get to San Antonio. Now, all the Greyhound bus stations in major cities are pretty soulful,
but the Memphis station where I had a stopover in was particularly soulful. So that’s what that song was about.”
“Millions” is a swaggering shuffle fueled by Clark’s inimitable stroke, Hunter’s walking baselines and his syncopated guit-organ comping. Trombonist Stuart steps out on this one with a tasty, blues-inflected solo. Next up, Dixon testifies on Hunter’s mournful slow blues arrangement of the Tupac-Dr. Dre song “California Love.”
The funky foursome digs in with abandon on “San Leandro,” Dixon’s take on the Oakland funk style that Clark pioneered along with Tower of Power’s David Garibaldi and Bay Area drummer Gaylord Birch. Marked by JBs-styled unisons between tenor sax and trombone and underscored by the former Herbie Hancock Headhunters drummer’s super-hip time displacement on the kit, this syncopated number has Hunter channeling his inner Paul Jackson with some interactive basslines alongside Clark’s syncopated pulse. Dixon and Stuart respond with typically forceful solos over the top.
Hunter’s arrangement of Terence Trent Darby’s hook-laden 1987 pop hit “Wishing Well” is fueled by the guitarist’s bubbling baselines and funky organ-styled comping and buoyed by Clark’s slick brushwork. Dixon switches to alto sax on the groovy trio number “Black Mountain,” then experiments with harmonizer on his tenor sax, a la Eddie Harris, on “Nag Champur.” He explains the name of this funky throwdown: “I based that whole concept on just about every club that I’ve ever played in, where in the dressing room it smells like a mix of weed and that Indian incense Nag Champur. That smell has been following me all across the world so I decided to write a tune about it.”
Clark introduces his Texas shuffle beat on “Flat Tire Blues,” an earthy number that has Dixon fairly walking the bar with his tenor and Hunter responding in kind with a dynamic guitar solo. And “87 mph” is an uptempo shuffle that emerged as an impromptu jam in the studio. “Mike just hit this groove and we all jumped on it,” recalls Dixon, who plays with unbridled gusto on this romp.
The album closes on an intimate note with Dixon’s unaccompanied reading of the jazz standard “It Could Happen To You.” As he explains, “That was something that happened kind of spur of the moment in the studio. Charlie just told me, “go in there and play any ballad you really love,’ and this is what came out. I actually thought they were just testing the mic levels in the control room, but what I played is what ended up on the record.”
From urgent funk workouts to earthy shuffles to gorgeous unaccompanied tenor sax, Coast To Crossroads is a genuine feast for the heart and soul.
ABOUT ROB DIXON
The music of Rob Dixon is both respectful of tradition and free with expression and truly shows the musical diversity that is within Rob’s creativity. After matriculating from Hampton University and Indiana University’s School of Music, Rob moved to the top of the music world in New York City working with legendary and popular artists such as the Count Basie Band, Tony Bennett, The Ellington Band, Slide Hampton, Dakota Stanton, The Illinois Jacquet Big Band, Rufus Reid, Akira Tana, Jonah Jones as well as Bill Lee (composer and father of Spike Lee), Weldon Irving, Producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad (DJ of Tribe called Quest) and The Skatalites, Returning to Indianapolis in 2003, Dixon has continued to work with internationally renowned artists such as pianist Steve Allee, drummer Steve Houghton, The Buselli-Wallarab Jazz orchestra, The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks, Guitarist Dave Stryker, and others.
In 2005 Rob Dixon founded Triology, which has included bassist Brandon Meeks, keyboardist Steven Jones, and drummer Richard “Sleepy” Floyd. Additionally in 2012, Dixon founded the Indianapolis Jazz Collective, an ensemble that has recorded an album titled “Jazz on Canvas” and includes pianist Steve Allee, bassist Nick Tucker, Trumpeter Marlin McKay, and drummer Kenny Phelps. The Indianapolis Jazz Collective has featured guest artists such as vibraphonist Stefon Harris, Alto Saxophonist Bobby Watson and Trumpeter Randy Brecker.
Rob is an adjunct professor at IUPUI and Earlham College and is the Artistic Director for Indy Jazz Fest. He also mentors the Jazz Futures; an Indianapolis Jazz foundation sponsored ensemble comprised of talented high school musicians from various high schools throughout the metropolitan area of Indianapolis.