Dennis Gonzalez NY Quartet – Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue (CF 094)
Dennis Gonzalez is a Dallas-based musician with deep connections to the history of post-Coltrane improvised music. To provide some recent examples, the rhythm section on his 2002 recording “Old Time Revival” brought together the titanic bassist Malachi Favors, best known for his work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and drummer Alvin Fielder, the Art Ensemble’s original drummer who also played with Sun Ra’s Arkestra during its ‘50s heyday in the Windy City. Dennis’ “Nile River Suite” from the following year marked the return to recording of bassist Henry Grimes, who did trailblazing work with Sonny Rollins, Cecil Taylor, and Albert Ayler in the ‘60s. His “Idlewild” from 2004 featured his fellow Renaissance man, Black Artists Group/World Saxophone Quartet veteran Oliver Lake. And so on.
“Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue,” just released on the Portuguese Clean Feed label, is the latest outing from a group last heard on 2003’s “NY Midnight Suite”: besides Gonzalez on trumpet, there’s Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax, Mark Helias on bass, and Michael T.A. Thompson on drums. The album’s centerpiece is a 34-minute segment from a technical issue-plagued 2003 recording concert at Tonic, a venue on Manhattan’s Lower East Side that closed its doors in April 2007. The remainder of the disc is devoted to music that Gonzalez and Thompson were inspired to compose by the music from that night.
Gonzalez is a muso who’s attuned to music’s magical and spiritual dimensions, and his work often has the spacious and cerebral quality of classic ‘70s recordings on the ECM label. Like Bill Barron, who played trumpet on Cecil Taylor’s “Conquistador” album from 1966, Dennis’ musical voice is often the calm amidst the storm. That said, the live dynamic of the group on this recording (beautifully captured in spite of any mechanical problems) is stunningly raw and alive; there’s plenty of sweat and blood encoded in the sectors of this shiny silver disc. Most valuable player here is drummer Thompson, a sensitive, listening percussionist who shifts from floating free time to thunderous polyrhythmic fury like some hybrid of Sunny Murray and Elvin Jones, even dialoguing with Gonzalez’s horn to good effect on their opening duet feature, “Reaching Through the Skin.” Also noteworthy is Helias’ singing arco bass on the tour de force “Afrikanu Suite.” The live tracks and subsequently recorded studio ones blend seamlessly.
“Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue” is another worthwhile release from a consistently engaging artist.