Release: January 12, 2024
Langston Hughes is seen as one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance in the 20’s and 30’s, and is celebrated for his writing, social activism, and conception of ‘jazz poetry’. The realisation of a longstanding dream of composing a series of works inspired by Hughes’ poems, saxophonist, composer and educator David Bixler proudly presents ‘The Langston Hughes Project Vol. 1’, set to release on January 12th.
After settling in New York thirty years ago, Bixler cut his teeth touring the world with the big bands of Lionel Hampton and Toshiko Akioshi. He later joined the Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Big Band, with whom he played a decade-long residency of Sunday evenings at Birdland and won a Latin Grammy for the recording, Final Night at Birdland. His work has been featured in Downbeat Magazine, All About Jazz and more.
Making a conscious effort to stay away from Hughes’ poems that explicitly use jazz and/or music as the subject matter, Bixler chose poems that spoke about justice, suffering, mortality, and the absence of truth from Hughes’ perspective. For example, Hughes’ view on the blindfolded personification of justice is not that the woman is impartial, but that her eyes have been gouged out. Bixler spent time with each poem, committing it to memory, and improvising with its text which laid the framework for each musical work.
Bixler’s purposeful saxophone improvisations carry the ensemble – jazz quintet and string quartet – through immersive soundscapes, bluesy swing feels, jagged atonal chaos and beyond. Dynamically shifting between the written and the spontaneous, intricate horn lines and tension-riddled string arrangements give way to grooving rhythm section solos and affected saxophone sounds in a way that leaves the listener guessing on every turn.
Upon completion of the nonet recordings, electroacoustic composer Elainie Lillios used the raw recordings to craft expansive passages of texture for Bixler to improvise with. Placed between the album’s four tracks, these interludes bridge the album into one seamless musical journey.
In answer to the purpose of this project, in Bixler’s own words he says:
“I chose [Hughes’] poems that particularly spoke to me about topics that I care about. In response I wanted to express the concepts of these poems, by someone who used words so well, by using pitch and rhythm and phrasing; I wanted to use musical elements the way Hughes used the English language to offer something as a protest or a commentary to the on-going social tensions that occurred in the years during Hughes’ life, the same ones that have been a painful reality in recent years, as well as all the years in between.”
David Bixler | Alto Saxophone, Compositions
Mike Rodriguez| Trumpet
Jon Cowherd | Piano
Gregg August | Bass
Fabio Rojas | Percussion
Judith Ingolfsson | Violin
Heather Martin Bixler | Violin
Arthur Dibble | Viola
Rubin Kodheli | Cello
Elainie Lillios | Electroacoustics
The Langston Hughes Project
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