Dennis Gonzalez – Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue (CF 094)
The reason why I like Dennis Gonzalez’s music, is the combination of emotional expressiveness, open musical form, warmth of tone, his sense of free melody, and the absolute priority he gives to the music as the outcome of the whole band’s performance, rather than using the band to demonstrate his own skills. Every Gonzalez album is a “band” album. And all the above together is not a minor feat. Add to that, that this band is not just a band, it consists of Ellery Eskelin on sax, Mark Helias on bass and Mike Thompson on drums, three stellar musicians who no longer need introduction. Because of all these excellent ingredients and characteristics, the music is immediately identifiable as his. Starting with “Reaching Through The Skin”, Gonzalez kicks it off with solo trumpet, melodic, rhythmic emotional, to be joined by high energy complex drumming by Thompson, a duo format with which the album will also end. Thompson’s drumming is one of the most typical features of this album, and at moments it gives the impression that he’s leading and driving the music forward, of course in the central track “Soundrhythmium”, wich is solo percussion, but also on the title track, and on the long “Afrikanu Suite” his role is decisive in creating the tension, accents and depth to the music, offering a perfect counterpart for Helias’ sad or menacing bowing and Gonzalez melancholy lines. “The Afrikanu Suite” brings some counterweight to the trumpet/drums of the other tracks, by starting with a great sax and bass duet, with Helias and Eskelin opening their bag of technical skills to create one soundsculpture after the other, varying incessantly, while remaining coherent in their approach, leading towards a fragile sensitivity, preparing the ground for Gonzalez’ sad trumpet, which evolves into a more free bop mode, dropping the rhythm somewhere in the middle for some tentative collective free improv, and when the rhythm comes back with a Latin twist, the audience applauds enthusiastically. I wish I had been at Tonic that night to watch this live performance. Needless to say that Gonzalez is one of my favorite artists of the moment. I like his musical vision, and the rare joint strengths of accessibility and creativity. This is without a doubt his best album since his “Nile River Suite”.