Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dennis Gonzalez, the Complete Improvisational Artist

Dennis Gonzalez doesn't just play the trumpet, or the cornet. And he doesn't just play well. He imbues every session and date as a leader with a certain wholeness of concept. It is a matter of grasping the possibilities inherent in a particular musical aggregation at a particular point and helping things run their course.

You can hear that clearly in The Great Bydgoszcz Concert (Ayler), a very productive live date he recorded with a quartet in Poland last year. There is a nice fit between the pieces chosen (originals by the band plus an Ornette Coleman piece and one by the late Polish jazz composer Krzysztof Komeda) and the personality of the band. The result is a long program of no-B.S. modern jazz in a post-Ornette framework ("post-" here designating "following in the wake of," not "negating or going elsewhere after a style has exhausted itself").

The band has real strengths. It's the union of his long-running Yells at Eels Trio with Rodrigo Amado. Dennis is the sort of trumpeter that never seems to run out of ideas or resort to personal pet phrases. Like a good conversationalist, he finds something interesting to say on the theme at hand. He also shows his affinity with Don Cherry and Bill Dixon here, in the sense that he too can construct lucid lines with a folksy trumpet sound that is all his. Rodrigo Amado shows on this date that we may have been missing something, that he is a tenor man who has built an edifice from a musical language he himself has forged out of the modern zeitgeist of what has been laid down in the music since 1960. Such music making is most welcome in an age where imitation may be flattery but does little to move the music forward.

Dennis has found a powerful rhythm team in his two sons, Aaron and Stefan on acoustic bass and drums, respectively. They have no small amount of responsibility for the success of this session. In part one can hear the Haden-Blackwell nexus at work, but only referentially. It's what they do with those initial models that counts.

I tend to think that everything Dennis Gonzalez does is worthwhile. But even if you are not a Gonzalez completist, The Great Bydgoszcz Concert is one of his very best to date, and so perhaps you will want to hear it.

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