NY Midnight Suite
Clean Feed 20

Nile River Suite
Daagnim CD9

Products of a two-day bushman’s holiday in the Big Apple by Dallas-based trumpeter Dennis González, these CDs should irrefutably proves that non-New Yorkers can show Naked City denizens a thing or two.

González, who is also a schoolteacher and a visual artist, runs a supportive co-op organization in Dallas and in the past has recorded with other advanced hinterland players like New Orleans saxist Kidd Jordan and Chicago bassist Malachi Favors. Taking two suites of compositions with him, the brassman plus local drummer Michael Thompson recorded these two CDs in two days with different bands of New York’s finest.

NY MIDNIGHT SUITE links the two with certified downtowners, who are also leaders on their own: tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and bassist Mark Helias. Longer and more ambitious NILE RIVER SUITE finds González and Thompson, in the company of players who often work with bassist William Parker: multi-reedist Sabir Mateen, recently rediscovered bassist Henry Grimes and brassman Roy Campbell, in whose band Thompson also plays. Both are impressive achievements.

More raucous, MIDNIGHT sounds like Ornette Coleman quartet with Don Cherry or Albert Ayler’s band with his brother trumpeter Donald. But González is a more sophisticated soloist than those men were, while Eskelin’s bent is to append Gene Ammons-like soulfullness to a modern overlay.

This is made most clear on “Dominant Fang”, whose antecedents include Latin ass well as freebop. It sometimes sounds as if what would happen if Sonny Rollins’ “East Broadway Rundown” was recast as a hip cop show theme. Here the tenor man double tongues and produces a crying tone, while González, staying in lockstep with him not only frequently reprises the theme but holds to a gentler, more graceful tone.

Meanwhile, the most descriptive part of the Suite, “Runaway Taxi Uptown” has a definite Manhattan vibe and almost replicates a cab ride. Centred on call-and-response between the saxist’s reed biting and the trumpeter’s high triplets, mellow smears and bent notes, it finds Eskelin deconstructing his tone as he ascends the scale. Behind them Thompson mixes his splintering bounces and flams with sandpaper-like incursions on his drumheads and Helias contributes arco punctuation. Ending finds González recapitulating the musical theme as Eskelin sources taxi honks.

On the other hand, “Angels of the Dark Streets”, Part II of the Suite and the unrelated, more-than 18 minute “Hymn for the Elders” showcases a more temperate, style, but with toughness still present. On the first, Eskelin unleashes an atonal, irregularly pitched trill that sounds as it comes straight from the sax bow. With Helias moving from walking bass line to spiccato and Thompson cymbal smashing, the trumpeter unleashes a clutch of triplets, which later on suggest “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. With the front line contrapuntal, both appear to be voicing different parts of the melody, as the saxist finally slows down to lower intensity slurred vibrations.

Polytonal counterpoint enlivens “Hymn” as well, as does unaccompanied cadenzas from Eskelin at the top, a resounding bass drum tone and ground bass lines from Helias. Spurting a few broken grace notes González moves lazily up the scale, encouraging the reedist to spew colored air, the drummer to scour his cymbal and the bassist to slide portamento across his strings. Harmonically muted legato tones from both hornmen gradually curve and double tongue to the quiet ending.

“The Nile Runs through New York (Part IB)” and The Nile Runs through My Heart (Part II)”, two parts of the Nile suite which also run into one another, demonstrate what the composer-trumpeter can do with additional aural colors. The entire CD was recorded the day following the previous session.

On the first tune, Mateen’s vamping flute and Grimes’ bowed bass buffer González’s bravura performance, which logically from the performer comes with a certain Spanish-tinged majesty. Muted, the trumpeter faces off with sluicing clarinet work from Mateen, whose flutter-tongued obbligatos add a certain folksiness to the proceedings. Using soaring moderato grace notes, the composer’s contrapuntal resolution ends the piece with a woody growl. Bridged by a slow-paced bass solo, the second track showcases Campbell amplifying González’s solo, but identifying himself by squeezing, staccato valve work, producing spirals of growls and bleats.

Elsewhere, as on the more than 18 minute “Lyons in Lyon”, named for the altoist Jimmy and the French city, Grimes’ unvarying bass pulse sometimes threatens to push the band back to the anthematic 1960s. But Mateen’s raspy overblowing on alto and Campbell’s looping, vocalized triple tonguing prevents the tune from becoming too chant-like. Soon González adds wiggling counterlines to the other oracular horns, eventually leading one brassman to concentrate on the modulated mid-range as the other shrills higher notes. The bassist offers up a metallic, ponticello tone, Mateen vibrates clarinet pitches and Thompson’s rolls, flams and rebounds on snares and toms help the piece moderate and becomes softer with more unison octave harmonics.

Ultimately the CD is brought to the end with “Hymn for the Ashes of Saturday”. But it’s one religious song whose mixed secular/sacred reference includes a “Night Train”-like shuffle head that’s extended with march tempo rat-tat-tats from Thompson. Meanwhile, as González pecks ahead of the beat on his horn, the other horns riff behind him. Following a ratamacue-ready solo from the drummer that ratchets the wooden parts of his kit, the bands exits as the trumpeter plays a bugle-call-like reveille and Mateen twists and smears his reed into a double timed ending.

As the song goes, “If you can make it here/You can make it anywhere” and González has proven that statement with some help from the locals. Judging from his skills as a composer, arranger and player, what’s really needed is for New Yorkers and other urbanites to pay more attention to his scene in Dallas.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: NY: Suite: 1. (III) Sketch the Wings of Midnight 2. (II) Angels of the Dark Streets 3. (I) Runaway Taxi Uptown 4. Hymn for the Elders 5. Dominant Fang 6. New Short Song

Personnel: NY: Dennis González (trumpet); Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone); Mark Helias (bass); Michael Thompson (drums)

Track Listing: Nile: 1. Lyons in Lyon 2. Sand Baptist 3. The Nile Runs through New York (Part IA) 4. The Nile Runs through New York (Part IB) 5. The Nile Runs through My Heart (Part II) 6. The Nile Runs through Us All (Part III) 7. Hymn for the Ashes of Saturday

Personnel: Nile: Dennis González (trumpet); Roy Campbell Jr. (trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn and flute); Sabir Mateen (alto and tenor saxophones, flute, alto and Bb clarinets); Henry Grimes (bass); Michael Thompson (drums and percussion)