With her sublime new album, Akua’s Dance, cellist Akua Dixon brings her sumptuous sound to the foreground on an array of material encompassing exquisite balladry, the music’s deepest roots in African and African-American culture, and instrumental pieces gleaned from Dixon’s opera-in-progress. Her label Akua’s Music will release the new CD on February 10.
“The music moves forward from where I was to where I’m going,” says Dixon, who notes that her last release, 2015’s critically hailed album Akua Dixon, was a string- centric recording that featured her “in a sectional way,” Dixon says. “On this one I’m out front with the rhythm section.”
Two rhythm sections, to be precise. Seven of the 10 tracks feature her stellar working quartet with guitarist Freddie Bryant, bassist Kenny Davis, and drummer Victor Lewis, with Dixon performing on the baritone violin. Built by the late luthier Carleen Hutchins, “it’s an instrument with the same tuning as my cello but a larger, deeper sound,” Dixon says. “I wanted some more power.”
On three pieces Lewis and Dixon (on cello) are joined by guitar ace Russell Malone and bass legend Ron Carter, with whom she first performed some four decades ago on Archie Shepp’s The Cry of My People (1972, Impulse!). But Akua had never had a chance to work with Carter playing her music, “so I reached out to him. If you don’t ask you don’t receive.” The album opens with Dixon’s “I Dream a Dream,” a piece she repurposed from her opera based on the life of 19th-century New Orleans voodoo queen Marie Laveau. “This dance rhythm has roots in many parts of Africa and wherever Africans were taken,” says Dixon. “Akua’s Dance” is another tune drawn from the opera, and its terpsichorean groove was inspired by Dixon’s gigs performing for dancers at African- American socials. “Dance was at the foundation of this music,” she says.