Reverend Nat Dixon’s latest CD, Made in New York City, balances an offering of ten songs in varied tempos ranging from Duke Ellington’s classic, meditative ballad In A Sentimental Mood to the bebop classic Anthropology, performed in a fluid, robust tempo delightfully veering from the expected
vivace riffs of Charlie Parker’s original landmark recording. Dixon pays homage to the canon of jazz traditions and standards set by forebearers like Bird, yet clearly demonstrates his own improvisational freedom, supported by a solid rhythm section featuring longtime sideman and collaborator pianist Denton Darien.
On the album’s quasi-abstract cover art, Dixon looks slightly aloft in the distance – a searching, contemplative figure taking stock of the meaning of his eleven years in ordained ministry as it fuses with his lifetime love of jazz performance, crystallizing in his own new jazz subgenre: GOJA™ music, which combines Gospel, the Rastafarian connotation of God as Jah, and Jazz. Hence, GOJA™, as the Reverend describes his growing discography of original songs. Using jazz chord progressions, intonation, and structure, lyrics drawn from Scripture references, biblical narratives, and his faith interpretations, Dixon has blended musical genres once thought sacrosanct and irreconcilable by a majority of church folk and society.
The Dixon iteration of Anthropology best reflects the soloist’s true essence, drawing upon his rich legacy as a first-tier Harlem-based jazz saxophonist grounded in the masters while equally well anchored in his own hard-earned unique musical identity. The tune offers a bright, optimistic tone reminiscent of Sonny Rollins’ old-school lingo, “a horn full of air.” Foregoing speed, but never at the expense of his seasoned rhythm section’s well-honed ensemble sound, Anthropology blends the finer elements of harmonic and melodic intensity that are distinguishing hallmarks of the Reverend’s effusive musical style.
The opening track Back Street Blues, illustrative of GOJA™, was originally recorded as an instrumental by Dixon on a CD of the same title. This 12-bar blues tune became among the most called instrumental soul jazz tunes of the late 1990’s in rotation on program schedules of local jazz radio stations and markets beyond the metropolitan New York City area. The original featured iconic Hammond B3 organist, Brother Jack McDuff, along with jazz luminaries Jimmy Ponder on guitar and Greg Bandy on drums, while the 2016 version features the band members with whom Dixon plays at his Jazz Wednesdays service at St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church in the Bronx.
Pianist Denton Darien, bassist Trifon Dimitrov, and drummer Yujiro Nakamura present a tightly honed unit, forming a solid foundation for Dixon’s soaring saxophone solos. The original GOJA™ track, My Lord My God, is sung in deep, near angelic lamentation by Dixon’s fellow clergy person, Reverend Lori Hartman, daughter of legendary jazz vocalist Johnny Hartman, who offers a deeply meditative lament tastefully framed in 4/4 tempo.
The message and the music are set in a highly polished rhythm section complementing the fuller orchestration of violins and French horns. At the heart of this jazz-infused lamentation, one senses the pastoral imperative to convey the gospel message, embodying the ministerial vision of GOJA™ music as a potentially potent genre capable of appealing to new generations of worshippers while retaining traditional believers and those unattached to traditional church worship.
Committed to making a joyful noise, Dixon inhabits his soulful praise refrains, resounding as an elder cantor, a modern musician who, like King David is a psalmist and man of God who just happens to love jazz and sees celestial purpose sprout from its original roots in the form of GOJA™ music.
This CD is dedicated to the memory of Mr. George Scott: Jazz Trumpeter. Educator, Friend and one of my most important mentors. Thank you for all you gave to so many.
Writing Credit: Dennis Day