Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue: Dennis Gonzalez NY Quartet at Tonic
Dance of the Soothsayer’s Tongue features the much-discussed 34-minute recording of trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez’s quartet at Tonic, during the 2003 Festival of New Trumpet Music. In addition, Gonzalez and percussionist Michael “T.A.” Thompson have added a studio portion, sometimes melded with the live set. The recording is difficult, but thoughtful and rewarding, often in a way that’s opposite of expectations.
Precision is the rule here—on both studio and live segments, each note seems to have been placed with great care. That’s partly because of Gonzalez’s compositions, whose style can be described as “tinting”: They use a minimum of color to suggest a great deal more. But even the improvisations feel premeditated: Known for his heartiness, tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin’s solo on “The Matter at Hand” sounds like he’s plotting sonic coordinates (though at one point he’s obviously blowing spontaneous). Things change in the urgent (live) freeform centerpiece, “Afrikanu Suite”; a suite suggests connected structures, but most of it, from Eskelin’s flutters to Mark Helias’ bowed bass, is fresh, fearless improvisation.
Because most pieces are so spare, the rhythm section is the music’s linchpin. Thompson’s contribution cannot be overstated—he’s the engine driving every track, with Gonzalez and Eskelin accenting him rather than the reverse, and the most virtuosic display on the disc is his solo feature “Soundrhythium.” Helias is the wheel that Thompson’s engine turns; on “Afrikanu Suite,” while Gonzalez spins licks off his insistent riff, it’s the riff that’s memorable. Still, the whole quartet sizzles on this fascinating record.