David Bixler Abandons Inhibitions ‘In the Face of Chaos’


Saxophonist David Bixler recruits pianist Jon Cowherd, bassist Ike Sturm and percussionist Rogério Boccato for his latest album, In The Face Of Chaos.

(Photo: Iain Toft)

Helplessness and hope often have collided in the day-to-day life of saxophonist David Bixler. He’s spent the past decade helping manage his son’s recovery from a traumatic brain injury, recently taking a one-year sabbatical from his position as director of jazz activities at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University. It’s understandable, of course, that Bixler’s experiences caused a shift in perspective: “Before this happened, music was who I was,” he said. “[Now, it’s] what I do and ... that gives me a freedom.”

Bixler’s latest recording, In The Face Of Chaos (Red Piano Records), documents that freedom. While making the album, he let go of limiting habits masquerading as perfectionism, and just played. The recording captures momentary truths—some, Bixler finds beautiful; some, cringe-worthy: “You know those dressing-room mirrors where you can see every pore? That’s what recording is like,” he said.

Inviting input from pianist Jon Cowherd, bassist Ike Sturm and percussionist Rogério Boccato, Bixler initially sought to play some gigs and try out ideas ahead of the recording session. But in the true spirit of improvisation, he abandoned the plan. The album emerged as a live recording; only the title track would be captured in the studio. “I started thinking, ‘We’re going to have everything set up,’” he said. “‘Why don’t we do the concert, clear the hall and then just run the recording?’” After the show, Bixler and his cohort listened back to the tape. At first, the bandleader teetered on the edge of an old habit; identifying places that “weren’t perfect.” “Then I thought, ‘It just doesn’t matter,’” he said. “This is what happened. That’s real life.”

For Chaos, Bixler wanted to play around with a particular sound from Boccato, whom he met a couple years ago when both were playing church services. “I was asked to bring a percussion setup that would emulate a drum-set function without the drum-set sound,” said Boccato, who sought to complement the “chamber music” quality of the church’s existing quartet. Boccato’s setup for Chaos comprises cymbals, cajón, pandeiro, the uchiwa daiko (“fan” drum) from Japan and an 18-inch floor-mounted cylindrical shaker from northeastern Brazil.

Showcasing six original compositions and one spiritual, Chaos offers an honest snapshot of Bixler’s expression—and the freedom he’s found in simply playing.

As he looks forward to releasing another completed album with his nonet, Blended Lineage, Bixler reflected on his development: “Before, I would say, ‘Take 33—let’s make this perfect.’ But I’m realizing I’ve been chasing after something that’s never going to be there. If I make a record, I hope you like it, but if you don’t, there’s nothing I can do about it and I’m going to go on.” DB

On Sale Now
July 2021
Julian Lage
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