It would be rather offputting if Elton John and John Coltrane decided to get together, maybe do a little speed, and cut an album. This encounter never actually happened, but listening to The Gabe Dixon Band’s debut album, “On a Rolling Ball,” gives a taste of what it might have sounded like. Of course, according to Dixon himself, when he first discovered Elton John, he wanted to become him. And all the members of the band have been heavily trained in jazz — so that explains a lot. But it does not change the fact that the result is really quite strange.
For the most part, the album is just a statement that there are still young people interested in making good music, steeped in the royal tradition of groove. Most songs are a fusion of funk or jazz, which broods or dances under a pop melody. The album opens strongly with the catchy “More Than it Would Seem.” The song acts as a unit — just pure slow funk — then bleeds into a great keyboard solo that clearly tells us we are in for a treat.
From that point on, though, it is really hard to characterize a style for any given song. “Last Fool” begins as a ballad about “socks I found beside the bed that weren’t mine” but turns into a jazzy pop song as Dixon playfully flashes back to the beginning of a relationship that is now over. Even in the fairly homogeneous funk romp “Bird Dancer,” the group has to find variety; they briefly break for a meandering keyboard solo which leads to a refrain that Sting might have written — before bringing back the funk.
The highlight of the album directly follows “Bird Dancer.” In the pop-like “Everything’s OK,” Dixon claims, “never thought I’d have a wife, but I can see her in my life.” But within one verse, she has left him, and within another, he has changed the name in the refrain to a new woman. Of course, between these verses lies more sweet saxophone soloing.
While the strange style takes some getting used to, it works, and it is really refreshing. The only pitfalls on the album are a few love ballads that seem almost inserted. “Corner Cafe” and “Now” are particularly erosive to the structure of the album, even if they are not actually bad songs. The use of the saxophone creates a sort of Michael Bolton sound that’s really quite devastating. “Last Fool,” on the other hand, after playing dangerously with smooth jazz disease, comes off as a successful song with just a few weak parts.
In this day and age, when it seems like good music is as rare as women at a Weird Al concert, it is very refreshing to know that there are still people fighting against the culture of ‘N Sync and Britney Spears. In one of the songs on the album, Dixon sings, “I am not your first fool, but I want to be your last.” Well, this is the Dixon Band’s first album, but lets hope it’s not the last.