Dennis González Spirit Meridian
Dennis González (t), Ken Filiano (b), Mike Thompson (d), Oliver Lake (as),
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Music always speaks for itself, and this disc is no exception: a spirited dialogue between four musicians who are not only conversant in the idiom of improvised expression but who have something profound to say together. Trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez and saxophonist Oliver Lake are well-traveled musical explorers whose collaborators comprise a “who’s who” of the jazz avant-garde in the late 20th century. The two men first played together in Texas in June 1992 after knowing each other for over a decade, and were reunited in 2003 to play Portugal’s Coimbra Jazz Festival. On this recording, they’re joined by bassist Ken Filiano, who first encountered Gonzalez in Austin in the ’80s, and Mike Thompson, who previously drummed on Gonzalez’ 2003 New York Midnight Suite for Clean Feed. The material on Idlewild comes from varied sources, but flows together like a seamless suite. Gonzalez composed “Elechi” as an elegy for bassist Malachi Favors, best known for his trailblazing work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The piece occupies a ritualistic, sacred space familiar to fans of the AEC, beginning with the root sounds of percussion and horns before gaining velocity as grief gives way to celebration. Here and elsewhere, Gonzalez plays with a soul-cleansing purity of tone, while Lake is alternately astringent and lyrical. In live performance, Gonzalez has introduced “Bush Medicine” with a political statement: “If you are sick with a cold, you take cold medicine. If your country is sick with Bush, you give it Bush Medicine.” (Some American listeners have objected to this use of the forum, but fellow musicians like Charlie Haden would undoubtedly approve.) The spirit of Gonzalez’ fellow Texan Ornette Coleman is present here as the two horns languidly intertwine before stating the tune’s sprightly theme, then the rhythm section joins in to support their blues-drenched extrapolations. “Idlewild” itself is a collective improvisation based on a theme of Lake’s. On this track, Filiano and Thompson’s musical empathy comes to the fore as they listen and respond to both the horns and each other. “Dust” and “Song” were written by Gonzalez with Lake in mind, and they serve as springboards to showcase the saxophonist’s emotional range, from comic freewheeling to volcanic intensity. Gonzalez has previously recorded “Document for Toshinori Kondo” twice with Yells At Eels, the trio featuring his hardcore punk-loving sons Aaron and Stefan on bass and drums. Hearing Spirit Meridian essay the tune is an experience akin to hearing Ornette’s “classic” ’59 quartet performing the same material as his electric Prime Time band on In All Languages. Like everything else here, it sparkles with energy, vitality, wit, and intelligence.