Dennis Gonzalez NY Quartet – Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue (CF 094)
From Gerry Mulligan and Ornette Coleman to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Julius Hemphill and latterly Byron Wallen, the piano-less small group has produced some of the most beautiful sounds in jazz history and the body of work that the Dallas trumpeter has amassed in the last decade or so has decisively enriched the canon.
Captured here at the sadly defunct New York venue Tonic, González and the group are in finely poetic form. In short, the leader has found a way of taking the at times resoundingly folk-like sensibilities of previous recordings such as Namesake and Stefan to greater heights, using space, a very economic approach to harmony and the dramatically dry, stark textures of the ensemble minus a keyboard with tremendous focus. Both the compositions and group interplay are strong enough to make the music shift through many tonalities and levels of emotional pitch with great coherence.
Minor mode dirges dovetail with upbeat major key dances time and time again, slow tense themes topple into punchy, energised motifs in the space of one or two bars. This structural fluidity creates a series of bold, tricky segues that reach a climax on the “Afrikanu Suite” where a series of lengthy, funereal ambient-like passages perambulate into an off-centre 7/8 clave pulse. It’s a lopsidedly joyous release. While drummer Thompson is outstanding in his creation of esoteric sound canvas as well as rhythmic invention, it is González, though his board, rich tone and ringing melodic statements – short snappy lines with a real skipping quality – who stands tall in a band of very good musicians. A powerful document of a player and composer who, upholding the legacy of Cherry and Bowie among others, is an essential name in the pantheon of contemporary jazz trumpet.