Dennis González may the greatest trumpeter that you've never heard of. The Texas native, active some thirty years ago, has reawakened to provide a batch of stellar recordings. Dance of the Soothsayer's Tongue (Live at Tonic)
, with his New York Quartet, might be one of the best jazz releases of 2007.
With nearly thirty releases as leader, his music has somehow always flown under the jazz radar. But ask musicians like Charles Burnham, Kidd Jordan, Nels Cline, Elton Dean, Keith Tippett, John Carter, Roy Campbell, Jr., Olu Dara, and Hamid Drake, all collaborators, and you'll hear of his stellar talents. Maybe you've missed him because his best work has been released on the import labels Silkheart and Konnex. But now, with the internet, his outings on Portugal's Clean Feed Records are readily available.
Dance of the Soothsayer's Tongue is the second NY Quartet release, and includes saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, bassist Mark Helias, and drummer Michael Thompson. 2004's NY Midnight Suite was this band's previous Clean Feed effort, recorded after a failed live recording date in 2003. González resurrected thirty-four minutes of that lost live session, and built this latest recording around them.
As a quartet, the band can create beauty out of seeming chaos. González's trumpet, like that of Roy Campbell, Jr. or Dave Douglas, tends to become a clarion call among the freedom of a creative outfit. The disc opens with his a capella horn repeating just a few notes, as if playing a jingle or commercial tag. Soon he is joined by Thompson's drums in a give-and-take dance of sheer joy. Throughout the disc, the interplay between Thompson and González is quite fertile.
The lengthiest track is the five-part "Afrikanu Suite, a challenging and wide-ranging piece that allows for thoughtful introspection and wide-open improvisation. Helias and Eskelin are featured quite prominently, with Helias casting energy with his bowing technique and Eskelin filling in the spaces that this piece opens for its listeners.
The eleven-minute percussion piece, "Soundrhythium, is more of a dance than a drum solo. The amazingly musical piece is awash in song rather than beat. The rarely heard Thompson is another undiscovered jewel of a musician.
The disc ends the very subdued and recessional "Archipelago of Days, as González's trumpet hovers about Thompson's cymbal work and tom-toms. It might be relief, or a religious experience, hearing González's NY Quartet for the first time; hopefully it'll be heard from again real soon.