Vinyl Review - Intents and Purposes by The Bill Dixon Orchestra

Album: Intents and Purposes: New Sounds for the Music of Tomorrow

Artist: The Bill Dixon Orchestra

Year: 1967 (2016 re-issue)

Label: Superior Viaduct

I first came across the Superior Viaduct label when I bought their re-issue of a William Burroughs spoken word record. “They’re releasing some good stuff,” said the cashier, and he made a face to indicate they were doing a good job. Given that this fellow was typically distant and contemptuous, I figured anything that might put a smile on his face must be worth checking out.

Indeed, the folks at SV know what they’re doing; the Burroughs record was excellent, and their catalogue looked promising to say the least. Long story short, I’ve been keeping an eye on them ever since and when I saw they were re-pressing Bill Dixon’s Intents and Purposes (an obscure little treasure of mid-sixties free jazz), I was quick to reserve myself a copy at the store. The record came packaged in a standard glossy sleeve with the label’s usual understated black sticker,  and I have to say I appreciate this total lack of braggery—what confidence!

I’ll admit that I expected this record to sound good before I bought it. Even so, I was taken aback—this is impossibly innovative stuff. To say that music sounds “like a tortured animal” is all-too-often used in the pejorative sense. Here, however, I use it as a very real compliment. Indeed, this is an album of hostile, almost perpetual climax that disdains convention. Dixon and his orchestra do to jazz music what Burroughs and Joyce did for literature: total decomposition of standard form.

Intents and Purposes calls to mind such other peculiar jazz albums as John Coltrane’s Om and Miles DavisBitches Brew; even The Soft Machine and early Pink Floyd endeavours come to mind. I can’t help but feel, though, that Dixon’s work somehow manages a tenderness or gentleness that these other works fail to achieve. His is a guided mayhem. This album is inviting despite its aggressivity, and is a joy to listen to.

Of the pressing and recording quality, too, I can’t speak highly enough. Horns are rich, textured and colourful, and the percussion is crystal clear. This disc offers an airy, open presentation without a hint of clinical transparency. Though each instrument is granted its own place within the soundstage, none is anchored there—the stereo image is fluid, dynamic, and orbital. I noticed two or three brief moments of what could be surface noise, but given the overall excellence of this record, I would not be surprised if these were imperfections in the source material, revealed (as they said in the early days of the CD) “by the high resolution of this disc.” Achieving such clarity on vinyl is no small feat. These musicians have created something alarmingly original, the producers and engineers involved in the original taping were marvellous, and Superior Viaduct are at the top of their game with this re-issue. No doubt, this is a sexy little record.