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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dennis González & Faruk Z. Bey - Hymn For Tomasz Stanko (Qbico, 2009) *****

Dennis González nor Faruq Z Bey may be the most memorable instrumentalists on either trumpet or sax, but what a musical feeling both musicians have! They are both eclecticists with a broad range of musical styles in their baggage, yet they manage, at least on this album, to create a very focused, very soulful and emotional warm sound. The album is created in tribute to one of my own favorite trumpeters, the Polish magician of melancholy, Tomasz Stanko. Stanko is one of the best trumpeters and musicians of the past decades, someone who has been able to create his own signature sound, which delves into the deepest levels of sadness and melancholy. His great achievement is to do that without resorting to cheap sentimentalism. His music is absolutely creative and fascinating.

Now González and Bey move into the same kind of territory without trying to copy Stanko either. Most of the music is slow to mid-tempo, with great themes, creative ideas and excellent improvisations, but the main achievement lies in the solidity of the band's common construction of the pieces. The band further consists of Mike Carrey on tenor and bass clarinet, Skeeter Shelton on tenor and soprano, Mike Gilmore on vibes, marimba, saz and tamboura, Mike Johnston on bass and percussion, and Nick Ashton on drums and percussion.

What makes this album great, is that the musicians manage to capture Tomasz Stanko's melodic sadness, while incorporating it into their own music. The four horns create a warm blanket of sound in perfect symmetry with the sustained polyrhythmics of the rhythm section, leading to a music which moves forward in great waves of sound, flowing like the sea, unstoppable and hypnotic.

"Hymn For Tomasz Stanko" starts with the title track, with bass, drums and sparse vibes, followed by a grand sweeping theme, dark and ominous, leading the way to a sequence of solos and repetition of the theme, with especially Gilmore's sparse vibes giving a wonderful atmospheric touch to the overall sound. The second track "Hu-Nu" has a wonderful counterpoint build-up, laid over a halting rhythm, quite inventive and very effectful, and is followed by a less orchestrated, free-er, more open composition, on which none of the instruments ever play together, but rather weave several phrases together, as suggested by its title, "Calligraphy". "Kuntu" is pure sustained African rhythm, with a steady bass vamp, a great theme and excellent soloing by González, Gilmore and especially Bey at the end of the track. "Namesake" is a piece which first appeared on the Silkheart record with the same name in 1987, which now starts with a slow unison theme before the bass vamp kicks in at a slightly higher tempo, supported again by great drumming. Again, this is a hypnotic piece with a great sequence of solos.

The last track, "Ilam", moves us from Africa to more Middle-Eastern music, with a saz intro by Mike Gilmore, followed by his playing the tamboura throughout the piece. The theme that follows is slow, sad and deeply moving, again with nice soloing and aptly ending with one by González, on a tune that could have come from Stanko.

In short, a great album, in my opinion of the same expansive and broad-sweeping level as his Nile River Suite or "Dance Of The Soothsayer's Tongue". The overall sound is very coherent, all tracks are of the same high quality, melodic, lyrical and creative. I love it!

The album is available as a 180 gram vinyl LP, or as a limited-run gold disc CD. To order, just send an e-mail to Dennis González at :

© stef


Anonymous said...

Dennis Gonzalez rules! And he's the kindest of men, and a dear distant friend.
I had just finished writing him an email when I went here for my daily dose of thoughtful reviews. This recording is just one more wonderful addition to my cherished shelve of Gonzalez and friends' recordings. Glad we share love for the man and his music.

Stef said...

It's hard to understand that this was recorded in 2004 without having been released earlier.


Stef said...

... but I'm glad it's available now.

Marc Beaudin said...

Excellent review! I picked up the CD at a Faruq/Northwoods Improvisers show in November (technically, I drove from Montana to Michigan to catch the show, though I was headed that way anyway).

I have a review of the song "Rwanda" on my music review blog: Three-Mile Spiral, in case anyone's interested. Now, time to go listen to "Hymn" again. Peace.

Herwig said...

After some e-mail corresponding with Dennis, I ordered the CD today.
After your 5-star review, I'm really curious ...

Kind regards - Herwig