Dennis González

December 27, 2009

A Matter of Blood
Furthermore Recordings 003

Dennis González Connecticut Quartet
Songs of Early Autumn
No Business Records NBCD 6

One of those unifying figures who maintains an enthusiasm for pure improvised music and encourages others, trumpeter Dennis González has been following this path towards experimentation almost single-handedly for over 30 years in his hometown of Dallas.An artists and educator with a home studio, over time he has established links with similarly inclined players in New Orleans, California and in Europe. Recently in fact his gigs in the Eastern United States have become more frequent. These notable CDs, for instance – featuring two different sets of playing partners – are the results of the trumpeter’s recent eastward treks.

Although González brings the same distinctive mixture of melodic invention, high-class technique, contrafact creation and quote elaboration to both sessions, each is oriented towards a different configuration. It may be that A Matter of Blood has deeper Free Jazz blood lines, since one of the participants is bassist Reggie Workman, whose associations include membership in an early John Coltrane quartet. Pianist Curtis Clark spent time in Amsterdam and has recorded with everyone from fiddler Billy Bang to saxophonist Sean Bergin. Meanwhile drummer Michael T. A. Thompson has recorded with González in the past, as well as with bassist William Parker and saxophonist Kidd Jordan.

If Brooklyn-recorded A Matter of Blood is a Free Jazz variant on the Miles-Davis-with-rhythm-section concept, then the Connecticut-created Songs of Early Autumn relates to the two-horn-two-rhythm dates that became legion after the New Thing emerged in the mid-1960s. Among the other players here is Joe Morris, a long-time advanced guitarist who has turned himself into an estimable bassist. Saxophonist Timo Shanko was part of the Fully Celebrated Orchestra, while drummer Luther Gray has worked with pianist Steve Lantner and saxophonist Rob Brown.

On A Matter of Blood, the trumpeter’s lyrical qualities are brought out by the pianist’s light-fingered, romantic tendencies. But Workman’s powerful strumming as well as Thompson’s mixture of regular time-keeping plus bravura manipulation of various parts of his kit keeps any softening slides in check. The bassist’s double-stopped and carefully angled bass lines are most likely to set the scene, while octave jumps, key slides and tremolo invention are exhibited throughout.

González’s “Arbyrd Lumenal” for instance evolves in such a way that Clark’s patterning cadences are hardened with key fanning and picking so as to extend Workman’s muscular chiming and González’s double-tongued slurs. As the trumpeter moves up the scale chromatically he’s chased by cascading piano lines plus shuffles and bounces from the drummer. Workman’s ability to keep the beat while also creating sul tasto rubs are also highlighted. But this discordance leaves ample room for the trumpeter’s grace notes to sound with maximum lyricism.

“Chant de la Fée” in contrast is taken andante and fortissimo, built around stabbing piano keys, spiccato bass strings and brass reverb. As the composition’s evolving color scheme shifts, Clark’s pianism involves parallel construction where nearly every stroke is matched by another in a complementary key. Making his own way among this undertow of ringing arpeggios and reverberating soundboard textures, Thompson shakes and quivers small percussion implements as well as crash cymbals.

Collective culmination, each quartet member distinguishes himself on the title track. This collaboration involves Thompson’s thick rim shots and bass drum pumps; Workman’s doubled picking and carefully measured strokes; Clark’s cross-pulsed riffs which work up to sharp and kinetic chording; as well as González’s plunger riffs and undulating mellow timbres. Before the finale of downward shifting piano arpeggios mixed with flowing bass strokes, the trumpeter fires off triple-tongued, tremolo tones backed by the drummer’s opposite sticking and cymbal snapping.

Quixotically more atonal, yet more obviously wedded to the tradition, Songs of Early Autumn subtly bows to the song form as Energy Music. “Loft”, the very first tune, for instance, may balance on sharpened reed bites, screams and honks from Shanko; rebounds and ratamascus from Gray; and triple-tongued connections from the trumpeter, but González also manages to repeatedly work a few quotes from “April in Paris” into his solos.

In a similar fashion “Those Who Came Before” – how’s that title for a clue as to the musicians’ sentiments? – includes a hint of Spanish melancholy in the midst of Morris’ solo. Expanding verbal yodeling with mocking cries and dense reed-biting from his tenor saxophone, earlier on Shanko harmonizes his reed phrasing with smooth, grace notes from the trumpeter. When the tonal centre shifts to ragged-and-rough contrapuntal horn blowing during the instant composition’s mid-section, the two echo one another’s cries on top of triple-stopping from the bassist plus cymbal cracks from Gray. Moving into the home stretch, the piece is divided between double-stopped, bent and strummed notes from Morris and echoing flutters from both horns. The rubato and rococo concordance worked up by the saxophonist and trumpeter finds Shanko growls and flutter-tonguing paying homage to Albert Ayler, while González’s capillary narrative is more technically sophisticated than anything played by Donald Ayler.

Shanko’s frequent reaffirmations of Ayler’s influence throughout are tempered by his chromatic forays into perpendicular Latinesque runs – encouraged by rough tonguing from the trumpeter as on “Bush Medicine”. Completing the improvisations so that the tune ends up being more variations then theme Gray’s snare strokes and cross-sticking precede surging flutters from the trumpeter before the saxman snorts the head one final time. “Lamentation” is a group improv that slides from mellow to mercurial as González’s whinnies and tongue slaps and Shanko’s wiggles and slurs. After the horns circle each other concentrically they attain harmonic unison.

González’s more frequent forays away from his home base are beginning to produce a series of memorable collaborations with other players. On the evidence here, add two more dates to that collection.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Songs: 1. Loft 2. Acceleration 3. Bush Medicine 4. Idolo 5. In Tallation 6. Lamentation 7. Those Who Came Before 8. Loyalty

Personnel: Songs: Dennis González(C trumpet); Timo Shanko (tenor saxophone); Joe Morris (bass) and Luther Gray (drums)

Track Listing: Matter: 1. Alzar La Mano 2. Interlude: Untitled 3. Arbyrd Lumenal 4. Interlude: Fuzzy’s Adventure 5. A Matter of Blood 6. Anthem for the Moment 7. Interlude: 30 December 8. Chant de la Fée

Personnel: Matter: Dennis González (C trumpet and B cornet); Curtis Clark (piano); Reggie Workman (bass) and Michael T. A. Thompson (drums)