Curtis Clark Trio | Taagi | No Business Records

* Curtis Clark : piano * Aaron Gonzalez : contrabass * Stefan Gonzalez : drums

Tracks : 1. Suite Joy/Blessings (12:06) 2. Suite Water Colors/New York City Wildlife (14:28) 3. Taagi (15:25) 4. Joy (6:16) 5. Blessings (10:10) 6. Beautiful Love (7:32)

This record has been made possible by generous support of UAB “Garsu pasaulis”. NoBusiness Records NBCD 11, 2010, edition of 1000 cd’s * Recorded May 1 and 2, 2009 by Dennis Gonzalez at South Dallas Cultural Center, Dallas, TX and Long Center for the Performing Arts, Austin, TX. * Mixed in Dallas by Dennis Gonzalez, May 4, 5, and 6, 2009 * Mastered by Arūnas Zujus at MAMAstudios, Vilnius, Lithuania. * Photos by Nari Mann * Design by Oskaras Anosovas. * Produced by Dennis Gonzalez * Executive producer – Danas Mikailionis. * Co-producer – Valerij Anosov.

Curtis Clark Trio | Taagi | no business records

Recorded on successive nights during May 2009 performances in Dallas and Austin, this album represents a great collaboration between jazz veteran and great piano maestro Curtis Clark and young, but very talented Gonzalez brothers – Aaron and Stefan. Piano trio at it’s best.

Taagi – which takes its title from the Apache word for “three” – is his first trio recording with bassist Aaron Gonzalez and drummer Stefan Gonzalez.

The piano trio is a time-honored jazz institution. Trio recordings have been among the most commercially, as well as artistically, successful in the music – one need only think of Ahmad Jamal’s Live At the Pershing, Erroll Garner’s Concert By the Sea, Bill Evans’ Portrait In Jazz, or Duke Ellington’s Money Jungle. Pianist Curtis Clark previously added to the canon with 1994’s Home Safely, in the company of Dutch master percussionist Han Bennink. For this outing, he’s joined by a pair of fiery young brothers from Dallas for a cross-generational meeting of minds.

Curtis Clark Trio | Taagi | no business recordsClark was born in Chicago in 1950, began playing and composing while living in Los Angeles, and became a protege of pianist-composer-bandleader Horace Tapscott. As a teenager, he once tried to convince Ornette Coleman to hire him, even though Coleman hadn’t employed a pianist in years. Moving to New York in the 70s, Clark performed and recorded with fellow California expat David Murray, appearing on the tenor titan’s acclaimed 1982 album Murray’s Steps. Relocating to Amsterdam in the’80s, Clark worked with musicians including saxophonist John Tchicai and drummer Louis Moholo — both featured on his 1986 album Letter to South Africa – as well as Bennink. He’s released recordings under his own name for Nimbus West and Favorite Records, and currently resides in Portland, Maine.

Taagi – which takes its title from the Apache word for “three”— is his first trio recording with bassist Aaron Gonzalez and drummer Stefan Gonzalez. The brothers grew up in an environment that encouraged creative endeavor; their father is trumpeter-poet-visual artist-educator Dennis Gonzalez. They mastered their instruments early and have performed in contexts that include mariachi, hardcore punk, and experimental music as well as jazz. Besides collaborating with their father in the group Yells At Eels, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, they’re also part of Portuguese guitarist Luis Lopes’award-winning Humanization 4tet. Recorded on successive nights during May 2009 performances in Dallas and Austin, the album opens with the Austin performance of “Joy/Blessings,” a suite that was a highlight of the band’s sets. Starting out, the pianist’s lyrical abstraction is laced with gospel and blues gestures.

When he’s joined by the brothers, Aaron unleashes flurries of pizzicato notes while Stefan flows like a rushing river, shifting seamlessly from brushes to sticks midway through the piece. On the Dallas version, also included here, Clark gently and lovingly essays the “Joy” theme, adding a soupcon of dissonance, but not in a way that interrupts the melodic flow. Then the brothers play together as though a single intelligence guided both their hands.

Another suite, “Water Colors/New York City Wildlife,” begins with Clark in a mood of Debussian contemplation before the brothers make their entrance, Aaron shadowing Clark’s melody while Stefan churns away like Rashied Ali behind Coltrane. Stefan’s brush and cymbal work here is particularly deft, while his crisp attack in the second half of the piece recalls Roy Haynes and Alan Dawson. The title track begins as a three-way conversation before Aaron solos to good effect, his big, dark sound lending weight to his lines. When the theme emerges, it’s a waltz — another reason for the title, perhaps? – which Clark begins exploring with odd groupings of notes that recall Monk, shifting to chordal interjections that are as harmonically rich as they are rhythmically spare.

The closing standard, “Beautiful Love,” is a big band chestnut from 1931, recorded by Bill Evans on Explorations 30 years later. While the trio’s approach to the tune isn’t as oblique as, say, the one Cecil Taylor took to “What’s New” at the Cafe Montmartre back in ’62, Stefan’s syncopations and Aaron and Curtis’ explorations are as far a cry from Evans’ reflective-but-swinging approach as that version was from Wayne King’s original. Steeped in tradition, looking towards the future, Curtis Clark and the Gonzalez brothers set a new standard for improvisational dialogue. Listen. Ken Shimamoto, Fort Worth, Texas, July 2009


Pianist Curtis Clark

has been under the radar a bit despite a distinguished pedigree, having studied with the great pianist and composer Horace Tapscott and played with eclectic saxophonist David Murray. After living in Europe for a number of years, Clark returned to the U.S. and cut this dynamic trio set with Aaron Gonzalez on bass and Stephan Gonzalez on drums. These men have a fine pedigree of their own, being the sons of the great Dallas trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez. The music on this album is quite beautiful and lyrical, flowing like water in a mountain stream through solo and ensemble passages. Two lengthy suites open the album, “Joy/Blessings” and “Water Colors/New York City Wildlife.” These demonstrate the trio as a very coherent unit able to move from more abstract spacier sections, to full driving trio improvisation. The title track “Taagi” is the centerpiece of the album, developing patiently over the course of a quarter hour and featuring some dynamic trio and solo sections. The remaining selections, “Joy,” “Blessings” and “Beautiful Love” demonstrate the lyrical nature of the music and the bands commitment to improvisational rigor. This was a classy and well done performance, and fans of exploratory piano trios should definitely take note. Hopefully it will raise the profile of both Clark and the Gonzalez brothers to the level they clearly deserve. — Tim Niland

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2 thoughts on “Curtis Clark Trio | Taagi | No Business Records

  1. As was the lot of his mentor Horace Tapscott, pianist Curtis Clark’s career continues to unfold largely outside the jazz celebrity limelight. That disparity in popularity relative to talent and activity hasn’t slowed him down over the years. Clark’s reliably sought out unconventional collaborators both domestic and abroad and managed to build a modest discography through the effort. An audience of those in the know exists for his work and it’s one that grows as the word continues to spread.

    Aaron and Stefan Gonzalez assert a similar attitude toward self-promotion and the vagaries of prestige. With minds focused on music-making they would rather allow their work to speak for itself. Each has diverse roots branching from punk, metal and mariachi as well as jazz and brings a youthful brio to every musical setting they find themselves in. In common with their father, noted composer/improviser Dennis Gonzalez, they aren’t reticent about accepting invitations from every corner of the global improvised music community. That open door policy obviously includes those players, like Clark, who upon first consideration might not seem the most obvious candidate for an alliance.

    Recorded at a pair of intimate recitals in Dallas and Austin in the spring of last year, this disc shows right from the onset that skeptical assumptions about compatibility of the three players are doomed to aural repudiation. The Gonzalez brothers leave Clark to his solo musings in the opening segments of the suite-structured first two pieces. The pianist uses that alone time to wax eloquently through a series of impressionistic extrapolations on malleable blues and gospel figures. The results curiously echo what an improvised variant of the music of 19th century composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk might sound like in its mix of romantic and rootsy architectures.

    The entrance of bass and drums on both pieces signals an increase in momentum and color. Aaron’s strings exude bulbous weight through the aid of amplification, but his prancing lines remain lithe and lively. Stefan’s sticks and brushes shed responsive rhythms with a speed and consistency that never feels rushed or crowding. The close attention each player pays to texture provides Clark a porous sounding board for a succession of dynamic right hand leads. The album’s distinctive title derives from the Apache word for three. The term summarizes exquisitely the artistic agreement at the essence of their collaboration. Limited to a pressing of a thousand copies, this set isn’t one to sleep on.

  2. To define the personage of pianist Curtis Clark as “underappreciated” is putting it a bit mild! Perhaps his indebtedness to Horace Tapscott has taught him to keep his own artistic virtues well-hidden. But that’s a sin, for a musician who appears on records like David Murray’s Murray’s Steps or on Home Safely, in trio with Ernst Glerum and Han Bennink, which is still one of the more unforgettable and intense works for piano trio of the last twenty years [if you don’t know this work, you should do everything you can to find it].

    It is therefore with pleasure and curiosity that we receive Taagi, with Clark again in a cooperative trio setting – this time with the two contrasting musicians Aaron and Stefan Gonzalez, on bass and drums, respectively, both sons of the well- known trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez. The record opens with two suites, “Joy/Blessings” and “Water Colors/New York City Wildlife,” in which Clark alternates solo beginnings with collective interplay in a convincing way. In his solo explorations, the pianist explores various ambiences, easily putting together the blues with harmonic complexity. But even on the rest of the record, which closes with a new reading of the standard ” Beautiful Love, ” there breathes an air of authentic dynamic quality, of inventiveness and balance between the different movements, without having to choose between the character of the music or the musicians, whether in the phrasing or in the total construction of the pieces. We are not sure that this record from the Lithuanian No Business Records [a pressing limited to 1000 copies] will succeed in removing from oblivion the career of pianist Curtis Clark, but this is certainly another milepost along the length of a measured career.

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