Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Dennis Gonzalez Jnaana Septet - The Gift Of Discernment (Not Two, 2008) ****½
On the first, 15-minute long track, small percussion and gong sounds lead you into a hypnotic African-tinged music, a great bass vamp, with the piano playing some inviting chords, a female voice rejoicing after some ten minutes, accompanied by a background trumpet of twice 10 seconds. And yes, you're right, this is trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez for you : all for the music, even if it means a self-effacing approach. On this percussion-heavy band he is joined by Leena Conquest on vocals, Alvin Fielder on drums, his sons Aaron on bass and Stefan on drums, Robby Marcado on percussion and Chris Parker on piano and percussion. In fact, this is the sequel to Alvin Fielder's A Measure Of Vision which appeared last year on Clean Feed. The African mood and rhythms of the first track are further expanded on the rest of the album. And it is excellent : Gonzalez's warm bluesy tone is recognizable out of a million, the rhythmic support is an ongoing stready groove, rich because of its wealth of percussionists, with Parker's superb piano-playing to put the harmonic layers and counterpoint to the trumpet. The band does not go too far into unchartered territories, remaining in the free bop zone, using many of the musical effects that have been used successfully by others before, yet this band purifies it and lifts it to a higher level than many of their colleagues did. Listen to the third track "Ganesha The Spy", again a 16-minute long track with a steady almost funky beat, but there is no exuberance, no extravagance, the whole thing is so sparse, functional, with slow trumpet phrasing and isolated piano chords, Gonzalez building tension by repeating the same motif several times and then releasing it by launching a high plaintive note, or somewhat later, Parker improvising with his right hand only, building the same kind of tension over a repetitive bass vamp and economical drumming, and these little single piano tones tell a whole story, the whole track conjuring up worlds, full of drama, pathos even. Even on the more uptempo pieces, as on "Tamazunchale 1", Gonzalez keeps his melancholy tone, almost like Tomasz Stanko would, although they sound quite different of course. On "Portugal", which is without a doubt the most electrifying piece, Leena Conquest joins again, adding a spiritual and deeply bluesy feeling to the music. The last track has a reverse structure of the first track, ending with percussion by all band members, with rhythmic moments interspersed with percussive sound effects, fading in and out again and back. This is unpretentious, deeply emotional and spiritual jazz, brought by skilled, but more importantly, by inspired musicians. Highly recommended.