Cadence Magazine review by Jason Bivins
Dennis Gonzalez NY Quartet – Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue (094)
In recent years, Dallas-based trumpeter Dennis González has really been on a roll. After several triumphant recordings in the 1980s, González left the Jazz/Improvised Music worlds for a self-imposed exile which, in hindsight, has seemingly inspired all of his work since. González has assembled a host of exciting groups presenting a wide variety of musicians, whether a collective with his sons, Yells at Eels, New Southern Qquintet, Dallas-London Sextet or the group heard here, González’ NY Qquartet. Said Qquartet, consisting of tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, bassist Mark Helias, and drummer Michael T.A. Thompson, released the marvelous New York Midnight Suite in 2004, a contemporaneous cousin to Dance of The Soothsayer’s Tongue. As the story goes for this release, the group recorded a marvelous set at the late, lamented NYC club, Tonic, of which only 34 minutes survived. Inspired by the results, González and co. recorded additional music that appears here.While this may be a band record and one cannot discount the marvelous group interplay that occurs when the entire group is hitting on all fours, González and Thompson are the central figures here. And while González is certainly a virtuoso player, he eschews flights of fancy or technical chopsmeistering and instead favors a sublime creativity that might remind of the forces of Don Cherry. As for the duo themselves, they are harmonious on the first and last pieces which bookend this cohesive experience. Up first is a duet between González and Thompson “Reaching Through Skin,” with the sheer force of Thompson’s drumplay carrying the day over which González punctuates with sparse noteplay of which a motif forms the basis of his melodicism. Likewise, “Archipelago of Days” proves to be a comforting farewell, a smoldering reverie where the rhythms undulate slowly and deliberately through Thompson’s sound sculpting. Speaking of percussives, Thompson, who is credited not as the drummer of this session, but as the “Soundrhythium Percussionist” goes it alone on “Soundrhythium,” convincing evidence that percussion solos can be truly musical and meaningful.Compositionally, González’ group sketches are just that, blueprints that provide space and benchmarks for the ensemble to let their creative juices flow. While “The Matter At Hand” makes the most of its spaciousness, the highlight of this midtempo buoyancy is Helias’ solo statements. The crux of the record, however, is the twenty-five minute, five part “Afrikanu Suite” that matches open expanses, spiritual wonderment, haughty improv (particularly during
an Eskelin/Helias breakdown), or killer grooves in the piece’s final sections. Not only does the time fly by, it is the kind of track that one wants to hear repeatedly. Could 2008 be the year for another NY Qquartet record? Here’s hoping.
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