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David Bixler/Arturo O'Farrill: The Auction Project

Track List

>June 26th 07
>Chicken Went to Scotland, The
>Green Target
>She Moves Through the Fair
>Banish Misfortune
>Heather's Waltz
>Gan Aithne
>Worth Dying For
>Green Target [Take 2] - (take)

Album Remarks & Appraisals:

"Stylistically, The Auction Project is slightly out-of-focus. It is ostensibly the meeting of Arturo O'Farrill's Irish-Latin roots at the corner of David Bixlerand Heather Martin Bixler. However, there is much to endorse the music made here, not the least of which is the presence of the two Chico O'Farrillbig band alumni. Bixler's "Heptagonesque" is the successful culmination of this Hispano-Celtic experiment, with its curious Middle Eastern flavor. Is it the curry? No, it's the violin.

Marked by a serpentine head introducing the piece, by the time O'Farrill begins soloing the tune has devolved into some impressive progressive jazz, perfectly captured in O'Farrill's 88 keys. There are several time shifts in the piece, with Bixler's solo backed by a lopping, sideways 4/4. The only real hint of the Celtic connection is Heather Bixler's sharp fiddle, but it is that same fiddle providing the landscape of both Limerick and Istanbul. This is forward-thinking music a little ahead of its time." -AllAboutJazz

"Altoist and composer David Bixler leads The Auction Project, with Grammy-winning pianist Arturo O'Farrill, who has described this album as being "very much about colliding cultures." This may slightly overstate things but the album does represent what is, for jazz, a rather unusual meeting of cultures.

Half of The Auction Project is devoted to Bixler's compositions, while the other half features tunes from the folk canon of the British Isles - the island of Ireland in particular. The key musician on these tunes is violinist Heather Martin Bixler; her playing is technically skilful and, while she does not have the spark of magic to be found in fiddlers like Dave Swarbrick, her playing does reflect a clear love of the music.

"She Moves Through the Fair" is probably the best-known of the folk tunes. As with many traditional tunes, there is debate about its origins - the words were likely written by Irish poet Padraic Colum, and musicologist Herbert Hughes may have written the melody rather than simply collecting it. It's been recorded many times - most notably in beautiful genre-fusing versions by folk-rock pioneers Fairport Convention and seminal guitarist Davey Graham. It's even been covered, somewhat blandly, by Wayne Shorter, onAlegria (Verve, 2003). Martin Bixler plays with empathy, while saxophonist Bixler and O'Farrill's chords help to emphasize the story's inherent mystery.

"The Chicken Went to Scotland" begins cheerfully, Martin Bixler adding a touch of syncopation to her playing that gives the tune an added lift, but O'Farrill's opening chords disrupt this mood and the tune soon loses its early cheer. "Banish Misfortune" and "Heather's Waltz Part 2" are more successful; the violinist reflecting an understanding of the tunes' emotional qualities. O'Farrill's delicate accompaniment on "Heather's Waltz" is light and refreshing, while he moves beautifully between this folk-style accompaniment and his more familiar, percussive, Latin style on "Banish Misfortune."

Bixler writes sweet, reflective tunes, played with great delicacy by the band. "Green Target," inspired by a Jasper Johns painting, features a lyrical and thoughtful Bixler solo, with empathic backing from O'Farrill and bassistCarlo Derosa. "Green Target - Take 2" is, unsurprisingly, a second take of the tune, with different solos, Martin Bixler's violin giving both takes a slightly disturbing feel.

"Worth Dying For" is stunning: Bixler plays a slow, intense and lovely alto part, backed only by Vince Cherico's sparse tom toms and cymbals. The tune stands out from the others in its style, mood and arrangement - a very emotive and personal performance.

The idea of "colliding cultures" suggests some fractured, explosive - even destructive - music but, in fact, The Auction Project is an altogether gentler affair. The cultures meet and interact on friendly terms: sometimes keeping a respectful distance; sometimes getting up close and personal. A dance, rather than a collision." -AllAboutJazz

"Cuba and Ireland are worlds apart in virtually every way, but the universal language of music - is often culture-blind. The Auction Project was born out of a marriage between two longtime musical partners - saxophonist David Bixler and pianist Arturo O'Farrill - and a marriage between, well...two married people. Bixler and O'Farrill, longtime band mates and label mates on Zoho Music, came together in 2006 to play a fundraiser at Bixler's daughter's school. Around the same time, Bixler's wife, Juilliard trained violinist Heather Martin Bixler, was exploring traditional Irish fiddle music. With Afro-Cuban sounds and Celtic creations being practiced under one roof - literally - Bixler gave birth to the idea of an Afro-Celtic jazz project.

The material, like the concept itself, is a mixture of diverse originals from Bixler and reworked renditions of traditional Irish songs. The latter pieces range from faithful, like the solo violin work on "Heather's Waltz Part 1: O'Farrill's Welcome To Limerick/The Arragh Mountains," to expansive. "She Moves Through The Fair" falls into both categories, with Martin Bixler's violin beautifully crafting the melody at the outset. As things progress, the exchanges between both Bixlers, and the shifty bass line that lurks beneath them, help lend this arrangement its identity. The performance, like many pieces here, juxtaposes slightly dark and imposing bass lines against semi-serene violin melodies on top.

Bixler's originals are easily distinguishable from the Celtic fare, and each one stands out for a different reason. "June 26th, 07" has a connection to the blues, but it's painted off of a broader harmonic palette. A shifting feel from one Latin groove to another (in bars nine and ten of the 12-bar arc) further obscures this aural relationship and, while everybody delivers strong performances, bassist Carlo Derosa's frisky finger work during his solo is the highlight. Percussionist Roland Guerrero adds finishing touches to "Green Target," and O'Farrill's ascending laddered phrases and descending waterfall of notes are brilliant moments in a stand-out solo.

"Heptagonesque" combines Afro-Cuban sounds and Middle Eastern melodic tendencies, briefly shifting to a relaxed swing feel, while Bixler works off drummer Vince Cherico's tom-dominated accompaniment on the slow burning "Worth Dying For." Anybody crying this lot should have no problem selling The Auction Project." -AllAboutJazz

Album Reviews:

Down Beat (p.81) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "THE AUCTION PROJECT features jazz with Latin overtones, Enesco clearly mining more classical territory."

Album Notes

Personnel: David Bixler (alto saxophone); Arturo O'Farrill (piano); Heather Bixler (violin); Vince Cherico (drums); Roland Guerrero (percussion).

Jazz has been combined with a wide variety of world music over the years. One could spend hours and hours discussing Stan Getz and Chick Corea's interest in Brazilian music, Dizzy Gillespie's Afro-Cuban breakthroughs, or the way that McCoy Tyner fearlessly incorporated Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian music on his classic modal albums of the early 1970s. But one thing that hasn't received much attention from the jazz world is Celtic music, and the fact that 2010's The Auction Project is an acoustic post-bop date with a strong Celtic influence (Irish as well as Scottish) certainly sets it apart from other post-bop recordings that were made in 2010. No one will mistake this David Bixler/Arturo O'Farrill CD for an album by the Chieftains; The Auction Project is by no means a straight-ahead Celtic disc. Rather, alto saxman Bixler and pianist O'Farrill (who are joined by violinist Heather Martin Bixler, bassist Carlo Derosa, drummer Vince Cherico, and percussionist Roland Guerrero) combine acoustic post-bop with both Celtic and Afro-Cuban elements on Bixler originals as well as on unlikely arrangements of traditional tunes such as "She Moves Through the Fair," "Banish Misfortune," and "The Chicken Went to Scotland." Certainly, that post-bop/Celtic/Afro-Cuban mixture isn't something one hears every day in jazz, but it works well on The Auction Project --and the musicians bring out the Celtic element without being nearly as sentimental as traditional Celtic recordings are known for being. In fact, a lot of people who are seriously into hardcore Celtic groups like the Chieftains, Altan, and the Clancy Brothers would probably find The Auction Project to be overly cerebral. Regardless, this is an intriguing effort that lovers of experimental world jazz shouldn't overlook. ~ Alex Henderson


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