DENNIS GONZÁLEZ NEW SOUTHERN QUINTET

Old Time Revival
Entropy Stereo Records ESR 014

JEFF CHAN
In Chicago
Asian Improv Records AIR 0063

Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM) exemplar, and its southern roots, underlines the creativity of the combos on both these discs.

Although only three of the nine players involved are AACM members — the late trumpeter Ameen Muhammad, bassist Malachi Favors and drummer Alvin Fielder — the cooperative archetype that the Chicago association feels must be mixed with creative improvised music is on show each time.

IN CHICAGO is another CD that mixes Windy City players with members of the Asian Improv (AI) movement, a musical co-op inspired by the AACM. OLD TIME REVIVAL, features trumpeter Dennis González, whose organization Daagnim tries for a similar, AACM-like supportive role in the Dallas music scene, exploring the collective southern identity of himself, two AACMers and two saxophonists. The musicians are better-known on this disc, but IN CHICAGO may have a slight edge, with organized arrangements on tap, rather than relying on solo luster as do many of OLD TIME REVIVAL’s tunes.

Case in point is “Centuries”, the more-than-12-minute final live cut on the Chicago disc. Purportedly inspired by a traditional rhythm from p’ungmul or Korean folk drumming, it still sounds like jazz, especially when Muhammad, known for his membership in saxophonist Ernest Dawkins’ bands, lets loose. Although you could link his brassy triplets to ceremonial heraldic trumpeting, it’s likely that no traditional Korean musician on either side of the DMZ exhibits as many bent notes and plunger expositions as this Mississippi-born improviser. Soon he’s adding jazz shakes and what could be piccolo-trumpet flourishes to his output. Chicagoan drummer Chad Taylor, who works in different bands featuring AACM guitarist Jeff Parker, offers up rim shots and a quivers from a tambourine lodged on his hi-hat, while carrying the beat on his ride cymbal.

San Francisco-based soprano and tenor saxophonist Jeff Chan, titular leader of the date, begins playing straightahead, but ends up elaborating the theme in split tones, displaying an exaggerated vibrato that advances to double tonguing. In one bow to Orientalism, though, when Chan’s line faces counterpoint from Muhammad, the instrument the trumpet chooses to use to reply is a conch shell, which in this context has the timbres of a Korean sho.

Besides South-Asian influences the other leitmotif on the CD is from another son of the South, Fort Worth, Tex.’s Ornette Coleman, with at least two of the tunes resembling the work of the Texas saxophonist’s pioneering 1960s quartet. “Bells/Falling”, written like all the compositions but one here by Chan, has a definite Coleman-like head, taken andante. Here and on at other places on the CD, the arrangements are held together by the steady bass pulse of Tatsu Aoki. An organizer par excellence, he’s the link between AI and the AACM, working as bandleader or sideman with local luminaries like saxists Fred Anderson and Mwata Bowden.

On this disc his work isn’t showy, but holds the rhythmic centre, as on this tune, when Chan tries for a stoptime effect sounding out glottal honks, emotional, elongated smears and vibrating reed tones. When Muhammad isn’t commenting on Chan’s forays with his arsenal of little instruments, which seems to consist of bells, claves and even a tiny steel drum, he creates some of his most profound work. Using grace notes to go up the scale, he slurs out other tones and accentuates the output with hand plunger trills. Taylor keeps up constant pressure on snare top, Aoki walks, and the piece climaxes with brassy blasts from the trumpeter and the saxman trying out chesty variations on the theme.

Composed by another AIer, Francis Wong, with whom Chan plays in the Saxophone Summit, “Persistence of Vision” has a tint of Imperial Chinese processional music about it. With a sandpaper tone vibrations the tenorist advances the theme that is then commented upon by Muhammad. His squealing continuum and Taylor’s shimmering ride cymbal, plus ruffs and drags add an African element to the piece. Finally it downshifts before the end, its stately advance marked by deep bass line and guiro-like percussion scratches.

Unfortunately, Chan’s soprano sax work doesn’t measure up to his tenor sax playing or composing talents. On most of the tunes such as “Sunbeams”, his lines, whether legato or staccato, lines appear pretty unsubstantial. This forces the compositions to gain color from Taylor’s ride cymbal, Aoki’s time-keeping bass and the scratching, whistles and bird calls [!] from Muhammad’s little instruments.

In contrast there is plenty of multi-faceted reed playing exhibited on OLD TIME REVIVAL. New Orleans resident Tim Green weighs in with his saxello, tenor and bass saxophones, while North Carolina-born, New York dweller Andrew Lamb brings his tenor saxophone. Rhythm section is made up of Malachi Favors, who since he left Lexington, Miss. many years ago has made his reputation with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Ritual Trio and numerous other bands in Chicago. Drummer Alvin Fielder, who is also a pharmacist, spent only a few years in Chicago in the 1960s, though he did participate in many AACM sessions. Back in Jackson, Miss., he’s involved with most creative music ventures in the Deep South, usually involving AACM members, González and New Orleans saxist Kidd Jordan.

On this date, González, who is also a schoolteacher and a visual artist, appears to be so buoyed by the presence of so many exceptional musicians that he lets them solo to their heart’s content. But a string of solos is only impressive in certain situations, as on the title track.

A fast, vamping blues based on an infectious line driven by the bass and drums, the composition begins with a trilling, irregular cadenza from Green’s saxello, as the other horns riff in the background. His speedy solo is followed by strident triplets from González riding on the relentless rhythm of Fielder and Favors. Open-horned, the trumpeter then seems to be quoting spirituals, proving a gritty commentary on what he played previously. Then, as the horn riffing gets faster and faster until the end, a tenor saxist — likely Lamb — sounds out gospelly glossolalia, scooting up the scale and introducing multiphonic feints.

“Hymn for Albert Ayler”, González’s devotional piece written for a man who definitely knew his old time religion, features intimations of “Go Down Moses” in the trumpet solo. Slurred affirmation comes from one of the tenormen and powerful bass strokes amplify this. Soon the tenorist — Lamb? — expels an undulating Ayler-like cry, all guttural split tones, but with not as wide a vibrato as the deceased saxist exhibited. As the trumpeter tongues out an euphonious rubato trumpet solo that’s closer to Coleman associate Don Cherry than anything Don Ayler ever played, Green’s saxello produces sweeping bagpipe-like nasal, buzzing timbres. Propelled forward by the bassist and drummer, the piece ends with the brassman easing into gospel shouts again.

Green’s subterranean bass saxophone tones and Fielder’s bass drum toe pedal whacks personalize “Hordes of the Morning Star”. Although at first you can almost hear the pedal’s hard felt making contact with the drum skin, the versatile veteran is soon breaking up the beat with shuffles, ruffs and drags. Green doesn’t just use his dinosaur horn for low down effects either. Once he gets started he pumps out a variation on the theme, using false fingering and split tones to leap in tempo and introduce split-second, soaring screeches among the reverberating bass honks. While all this is going on, Lamb creates a vibrated tenor saxophone line touching on multiphonics, and González’s solo, studded with grace notes, is heavy on the Spanish tinge. Rat-tat-tats from Fielder’s snare bring everything together for a unison horn exit.

Perhaps the most complicated tune is written by Fielder, who like all the players except Lamb is a longtime associate of the trumpeter. His “Four Moods for Carol” appears to feature four-curlicue themes going at the same time. With the bass sax creating a snorting pedal point, the tenor contributes an irregular vibrato and the trumpeter blasts out a mellow chromatic line. Fielder then underscores the proceedings with oscillations from blustering wind chimes, log drum beats, the shimmers of a bell tree and the whistling draughts of an African whirl drum. Those percussion accessories may only be approximated, but he certainly internalized the AACM’s skill with little instruments.

Favors expresses himself in a focused, single-note, thumping bass solo, while one saxist varies from reed-biting, echoing extra tones to forcing pure, colored air through his horn’s body tube. After a clatter of rim shots, the composer creates a coda of marital bass drum beats and snare ratamacues.

Surprisingly, one of González’s longtime associates, isn’t present . But tenor saxophonist Charles Brackeen, is honored on “Document for Charles Brackeen”, a freeboppish line that features both reedists on tenor saxophone. One creates a double-time, slurred line that turn to emphasized screams, while the other enters with a sobbing portamento pattern that expands until split reed overtones make it more angrily staccato. One would expect Brackeen was capable of both of these techniques, as well as an innate soulfulness that explodes in the later part of the piece when Favors’ suddenly exposes a funky bass line that could underpin Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say”.

Listening to it and the other tunes on OLD TIME REVIVAL give you the feeling that at least where jazz/improv is concerned, the South will rise again.

Now all González has to do is to head into the studio with more focused arrangements to likely produce a session that’s not only very good, but as outstanding as IN CHICAGO.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Chicago: 1. ‘Round and ‘Round 2. Persistence of Vision 3. Sunbeams 4. Bells/Falling 5. Waiting 6. Twilight 7. Waiting (reprise) 8. Centuries

Personnel: Chicago: Ameen Muhammad (trumpet, conch shell and small percussion instruments); Jeff Chan (soprano and tenor saxophones); Tatsu Aoki (bass); Chad Taylor (percussion)

Track Listing: Old: 1. The Matter at Hand 2. Document for Charles Brackeen 3. Hordes of the Morning Star 4. Hymn for Albert Ayler 5. Four Moods for Carol 6. Old Time Revival

Personnel: Old: Dennis González (C, Bb, pocket trumpets); Andrew Lamb (tenor saxophone); Tim Green (saxello, tenor and bass saxophones); Malachi Favors (bass); Alvin Fielder (drums)