"The open air of this music contrasts with its density of ideas. Many of Gonzalez's notions are simple, even irreducible, but his group organization is intuitive and magical. The whole area of post-Coleman jazz seems to stretch through their playing: a tradition comes to life, full of generosity. These are marvelous recordings, not to be missed."
Richard Cook, The Wire, March 1988
Dennis Gonzalez is much more than a talented multi-instrumentalist, composer, conductor, and arranger. He is the acknowledged leader of the surprisingly healthy new-music scene in Texas and a growing force on the world music scene that recognizes no borders. His activist approach to the music has carried his career far from his base deep in the heart of Texas. He leads a new music workshop orchestra in Yugoslavia, performs in England, Sweden, and assorted other European countries, and is constantly widening his circle of activities.
Gonzalez's recordings, both on Silkheart (Dennis Gonzalez New Dallas Quartet SHCD-101) and on his own DAAGNIM label, have aurally documented his open attitude to making music.
This album demonstrates that his substantial skills as a communicator, coordinator and catalyst for experimental musical activities are as important as his other talents. Gonzalez, tapping his experience as a teacher, was able to clearly articulate and share his musical vision with the other participants of the recording in a way that is unfortunately rare in the studio. The result, full of musical passion and percussion, is a coherent and cohesive statement from the mind of Gonzalez, expanded and embellished by the ensemble into a universal musical anthem.
Gonzalez chose widely and wisely to assemble a band for the session. His fellow horn players' influences literally span the globe while his rhythm section consistently manages to keep one foot firmly anchored and the other stepping boldly into brave new musical worlds.
Tenor saxist Charles Brackeen, a tragically under-recorded artist capable of a much wider range of expression than even his fans are aware of (check out his Charles Brackeen Quartet SHCD-105), frequently took the first solo on the album. His stratospheric flights set a questing tone that the other players used as a benchmark by which to measure their own efforts. Even without the obvious synergistic success of the ensemble or the unveiling of new Gonzalez compositions, this album would be significant just for bringing Brackeen's voice back into circulation, so immense and unusual is his talent.
Jamaican born Douglas Ewart has been a major force in Chicago's AACM avant-garde movement for many years. His multi-instrumental work, particularly on bass clarinet and his beautiful handcrafted flutes, is among the best to come out of the AACM musical mothership. He was originally schooled in the improvisational process by Muhal Richard Abrams, Joseph Jarman, and Roscoe Mitchell but has long since made his own distinctive musical personality evident. His playing, colored by a wide spectrum of ethnic styles ranging from Caribbean to Oriental, has a lovely lyrical sensibility that speaks of and to an inner peace while still stretching the musical limits in a confident and aggressive manner.
Trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah, a veteran of Sun Ra's intergalactic exploratory unit, brings an equally diverse and unusual mixture of influences to his playing. Abdullah's fusion of elementary Arabic scales with basic American blues is a music whose time has come, although it may be years before it receives the commercial acclaim it so richly deserves. Abdullah's sound effortlessly eludes easy categorization, blowing through stylistic genres like a desert breeze. In fact, Abdullah occasionally sounds like the late, great Lee Morgan playing modern music in the deserts of North Africa, an incongruous but not totally inaccurate image.
Malachi Favors, the Art Ensemble of Chicago's immaculate Buddha of the bass, always calm and serene in the midst of wild experimentation and always connected to the core of the music, served as the ultimate cohesive element for the music. While Alvin Fielder's propulsive work on drums and percussion provided an insistent motivation and direction, Favors was everywhere he was needed, not only ready to pull soloists to safety when necessary, but frequently using his almost telepathic powers of anticipation to be there waiting for them.
The album begins with one of Gonzalez's most successfully realized compositions, Namesake, a deceptively simple sounding piece in 7/4 written in memory of Gonzalez's father. One of the true marks of musical mastery is the ability to make the complex appear uncomplicated and Gonzalez's work on Namesake amply qualifies for such a designation. Through creative voicings, Gonzalez uses the four horns to invent an amazingly expansive and evocative sound, more like a large horn choir performing in a massive cathedral than a mere quartet playing in a recording studio. The tune's block chords and deliberate pacing produce a mood of what might be called positive patience. A five chord structure pulls things together amidst excellent soloing by all. Gonzalez's solo is somewhat uncharacteristic however, as it is comprised of long 'church' notes instead of the trumpeter's more rapid-fire style. The piece, originally commissioned by the Creative Opportunity Orchestra, premiéred in Austin, Texas in November 1986.
The Separation of`Stones is a gentle tune inspired by waking from a dream that carries the mood of another dimension with it. Subdued, yet exciting solos by Gonzalez (on muted trumpet) and Abdullah (on fluegelhorn) retain the dreamy feeling. Hambe Khale Qhawe (Farewell, Dear Hero in the black South African Xhosa language) is a percussion piece that is a prelude to Hymn for Mbizo. Ewart's geographic and genre-spanning flute prevails while Favors' bowed bass and assortment of traditional African instruments provide a flexible foundation. The tune is a paean to the life of South African bassist Johnny "Mbizo" Dyani who died in exile while performing at the Berlin Jazz Festival in October 1986.
4 Pigs and a Bird s Nest, composed by artist/musician James Sharper and arranged by Gonzalez, is a lighter piece distinguished by a fine Gonzalez solo on muted pocket-trumpet. Hymn for Mbizo finds Gonzalez's work at its most emotional and allows its major influences of church and African derived musics full rein. Based on the old American Baptist hymn Holy Manna, the piece is the fifth reworking Gonzalez has done with the composition and it is as successful as its predecessors, if admittedly removed from them in style.
Good Friends, an uplifting and engaging tune, became the unofficial theme song of the recording sessions. It served as a musical affirmation of the friendship and camaraderie that existed during the sessions, not only among the musicians but also among their wives, friends, and even those who just wandered onto the scene. Its festive air, with more than a little circus music slyly infused, gave the players a final chance to shed what few musical inhibitions remained and the soloing reflected it. One of Brackeen's hottest solos is featured but the general mood of friends at play dominates.
Gonzalez, also an accomplished visual artist of note, believes that his music contains hidden elements to trigger a variety of responses. He says, "The strength of my music is in the inadvertent imagery that happens." While this is undoubtedly true it is also a typical Gonzalez understatement, one that fails to recognize a multiplicity of more conspicuous musical attractions.
The deeply spiritual nature of Gonzalez's work is readily evident throughout this recording, but once again there is a subtle and satisfying twist. Gonzalez is not a believer in the dour prophets of fire and brimstone. His belief, like his music, is one that celebrates life and does so with joyous creativity. To Gonzalez, life seems to be a challenge to excellence, an opportunity to produce beauty as well as to partake of that already existing. This album finds Gonzalez transcending mere music to ably meet and master that challenge.
Down Beat Magazine
1. Namesake 15:31
2. The Separation of Stones 09:09
3. Johnny-Johnny 08:17
4. Hamba Khale Qhawe 01:36
5. Four Pigs and a Bird's Nest 05:36
6. Hymn for Mbizo 11:35
7. Good Friends 05:16
Dennis Gonzalez trumpet, pocket-trumpet, fluegelhorn, pao de chuva, Pakistani bells, kalimba, vocal
Ahmed Abdullah trumpet, fluegelhorn, balafon
Charles Brackeen tenor sax, conga
Douglas Ewart alto sax, bass clarinet
Malachi Favors bass, vocal
Alvin Fielder drums, percussion