Dennis Gonzalez Jnaana Septet | The Gift of Discernment | Not Two Records

Not Two, 2008 | MW 791-2 | CD

Dennis Gonzalez – trumpets. cornet, gong, bongos | Alvin Fielder – drums, percussion, small instruments | Chris Parker – piano, percussion | Aaron Gonzalez – acoustic bass, gongs | Stefan Gonzalez – drums, percussion, balafon | Leena Conquest – voice | Robbie Mercado – bata, congas, tambora

Recorded at the Mesquite Arts Center, Mesquite, Texas, on December 27, 2005 by Dennis Gonzalez. Mixed at Melo Dia Studio, Dalles, Texas, on December 28, 29, & 30, 2005 by Dennis Gonzalez.

Tracklist: 1. Raise the Spirit [18:09] 2. There’s a Face for Every Year [05:31] 3. Ganesha the Spy [16:16] 4. Tamazunchale 1 [06:17] 5. Portugal (for Linda Sharrock) [11:16] 6. Tamazunchale 2 [11:14]

A subtle African swing is the first perception

soon after the invocation that opens the music in this recording, although it was recorded on a winter’s day far from the savannahs of Africa, in northern Texas, not only because Dennis Gonzalez has been dedicatedly playing African-tinged music since the beginning, but because the elder percussionist on the session is none other than the original drummer with the pre-Paris Afro-centric Art Ensemble of Chicago, Alvin Fielder. The incantatory flavor of the bells, gongs and balafons and the open chording of the piano are reminders of the music of Randy Weston and of Pharaoh Sanders, and the spirit of the desert is revealed as well in the words of singer Lecna Conquest, well-known for her contributions to William Parker’s ensemble, Raining on the Moon, as she sings:

Thirsty traveler! / Sowing seeds in the land / Feed the soul / Raise the spirit!

As the second song attests, this meeting was originally slated to be a trio session, like the second recording of this series, released as A Measure of Vision, with Fielder leading the proceedings on that CD, by Clean Feed Records in 2007. But after hearing the budding work of Gonzalez’s sons, drummer/vibist Stefan, and the young virtuoso contrabassist Aaron, both of whom he’s known since their childhoods, from the time of the original Silkheart recordings, Fielder asked that they be brought on board, and the trio quickly became a convincing double drum septet. Chris Parker, a young white pianist from Memphis who has lived his playing life in the Black church, is introspective and aggressive from one moment to the next, and Fielder is ever the master drummer, following in the footsteps of his teachers Max Roach and Ed Blackwell. – – Zigni Watt

Thanks to Marek Winiarski and Not Two Records for keeping the faith year after year.

Trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez

has been responsible for some beautifully realized music on record in the past and this is a worthy addition to the canon. The music’s full of that often difficult to define quality called life, shot through with a group conception which makes for a realization which is simultaneously both tight and loose. The presence of percussionist Alvin Fielder provides a kind of link with the percussive workouts of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, and it’s that aesthetic which pervades the first four minutes of the opener, “Raise The Spirit,” before Chris Parker’s piano strikes out for territories new with Aaron Gonzalez’s bass hinting at harmonic possibilities. Singer Leena Conquest adds a further facet when she comes in and the gradualism of approach has the effect of enticing the listener in on the promise of new vistas. They come to the fore on “Ganesha The Spy,” where Parker’s piano sounds slightly portentous, only for the mood to disperse in the wake of percussion before Gonzalez maintains the stately, quietly reverential mood. Again the percussion is deftly handled in terms of deployment. The lyricism of the piece is perpetually foreboding, but in a manner that’s the opposite of off-putting. Not for these guys is the use of volume and instrumental screaming in pursuit of spurious spirit summoning.

“Tamazunchale I” is effectively a free bop outing, but it still gives Gonzalez the chance to show how he’s come on. Any debt he might once have owed Don Cherry was at best debatable, but now he’s his own man, not least in terms of his rhythmic conception. The percussion is busy, agitated at this tempo, but not to the point at which it’s detrimental to the music’s momentum. Again the key is realization. This is music as the product of group conception and the morality that implies is never in doubt. “Portugal (for Linda Sharrock)” is shot through with such rhythmic vitality that Conquest’s vocal establishes itself in counterpoint, her sustained notes belying the level of activity beneath. The very irresolution of the piece lends it an amorphous air, but that’s only one of the many happy surprises on offer here. — Nic Jones, AllAboutJazz

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