Internet chat boards remain places where all sorts of relationships take root. Even so it's not often that they're thought of as midwives for music. We have the Jazz Corner's Speakeasy to thank, at least in part, for the particular artistic partnership that resulted in this new Clean Feed compact disc. Trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez and saxophonist Ellery Eskelin each have ongoing forums at the site that allow regulars and visitors to posit questions about their respective musical endeavors. The two hadn't worked together in the past, but through correspondence quickly recognized a compatibility that eventually found fruition in this studio session.
Gonzalez is the erstwhile leader, contributing the compositions and lending his name to the top of the band's masthead, but his egalitarian approach makes Eskelin, along with bassist Mark Helias and drummer Mike Thompson, equals in the enterprise. The recording opens with the disc's eponymous suite, culled from a late November '03 studio date. Lengthy at just under forty minutes its three sections offer plenty of space for spirited blowing on sketched melodic and harmonic structures. A few segments of the suite threaten to ramble and fray, but the majority of the music retains an impressive cogency and focus. Solos rise and recede, connected by tethers of ensemble interplay that belie the band's nascency at the time of the session. All four men are textural players with abiding respect for melody. The attention to tonal color in their respective contributions is a key constituent in the music's success. Gonzalez and Eskelin make for a particularly potent team, the latter's dusky resonating phrases threading with the cool cerulean smears of the Texan's punctilious brass.
What's most striking to me is the amount of restraint and care that four inculcate into the music. Each man is capable of easily blowing the hair back with typhoon gusts from his respective instrument, but they choose to place emphasis on slow burn progress instead. Even up-tempo pieces like "Runaway Taxi Uptown" harbor strong lyrical undercurrents. Theirs is a thinking person's improv and attention to processural elaboration results sections of exquisite tension and release. Some technical foibles too, as when Helias amp emits an intrusive bumblebee buzz at the beginning of "Angels of the Dark Streets," but the fortitude of the music mostly subsumes them.
The disc's final three pieces originate from a live date recorded at Tonic three months early in August of '03 in conjunction with a trumpet festival organized by Roy Campbell and Dave Douglas. Curiously enough the sound is even better on these, though a slight reverb does trail Eskelin's lines, most noticeably on his gorgeous prefatory solo to "Hymn for the Elders." It's a locution laced with deep romanticism, accentuated when Gonzalez joins him in a rich spate of verdant harmonizing atop the swaying rhythm of Helias and Thompson. The strength and sensitivity endemic to their collaboration casts an expectant light toward future conclaves. This particular seed is sure to bear future fruit.
NY Midnight Suite: [III] Sketch the Wings of Midnight/ [II] Angels of the Dark Streets/ [I] Runaway Taxi Uptown/ Hymn for the Elders/ Dominant Fang/ New Short Song.
Dennis Gonzalez- trumpet; Ellery Eskelin- tenor saxophone; Mark Helias- double bass; Mike Thompson- drums. Recorded: August 9 and November 22, 2003, NYC.
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