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Dennis Gonzalez New Dallasorleanssippi
Debenge-Debenge

Cat. No.: SHCD112

Personnel:
Dennis Gonzalez  trumpet, C trumpet, pocket trumpet
Marlon Jordan  trumpet
Charles Brackeen  tenor sax
"Kidd" Jordan  sopranino, alto sax, bass clarinet
Malachi Favors  bass
Henry Franklin  bass
Alvin Fielder  drums
W. A. Richardson  drums

Track Listing:
1. The Masses (Brackeen) 22:06
2. Innocence (Richardsson arr. Boykin) 4:58
3. Debenge-Debenge (Gonzalez) 18:23
4. Zydeco Red (K. Jordan) 13:57
5. Drew-Do (Franklin) 7:42

Total time: 67:06
 
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"It really is very hard (in the sense of unfair) to pick individuals from the evidently collective inspiration. However, Charles Brackeen is superb – as well he might be on his own charts. Dennis Gonzalez's Debenge-Debenge has a masterly coherence and an impressive consistency. It's a powerful and convincing statement from one of the most committed and interesting of contemporary players and bids fair to become one of the more important – as well as enjoyable – albums of the year."
Brian Morton, The Wire, March 1989
 
 
Liner Notes

"What's new?" is the most important question facing creative artists and jazz artists in particular. Jazz at its best is always new; never the same, even when the same song is played three or four nights in succession.
Moreover, that newness is not just a matter of a few different notes here or there. Jazz was never meant to he arranged to the point of perfection nor sculpted in some recording studio and tediously reprised on a concert stage. But where is the new music and who is making it? That is the question.
Meet Dennis Gonzalez, an important musician and music producer who has been working, to carve out a liberated zone for creative music. Dennis Gonzalez has been grappling with the question of how to produce new music – and his answer has been profoundly concrete.
Since the New Music movement of the 60's, finding new forms is no longer a question nor a real quest. Spending an inordinate amount of the time searching for a new form for jazz is like seeking for a new frontier on the planet Earth. Which is not to say that there are no new variations of musical forms left to be concretized. Form per se, however, is not a problem: from the most structured to the most open-ended, instructive models exist for emulation or from which to draw inspiration.
Dennis obviously knew this, hence he decided to use a double quartet. Recall Ornette's "Free Jazz" LP and some of the pieces on "Broken Shadows." That's the reference, if you need one. Be forewarned however, do not expect to hear anything that sounds Coleman-ish. This music has other references.
Music is more than a numbers or reference game. This set is not about playing like anything that has been played before, although it builds on previous important experiments by the likes of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Charlie Mingus.
It is not unfair to add, however, that there are certain Coltrane (of the Pharoah Sanders period) ensemble devices which are beautifully developed on this recording. Some of Coltrane's most exciting innovations in collective improvisation (multiple bass and multiple drums among them) have been overlooked by a new generation, many of whom seem to prefer the Miles Davis (Wayne Shorter period) orientation.
It is not surprising that a negative aspect of jazz's quest for newness is that there is a tendency to ignore the "old". And one must realize that going beyond existing boundaries is not easy, especially if one seeks real substance and not simply gimmicks or slick production techniques. The truth is that most of us lack the vision to be truly innovative.
Jazz musicians, like everyone else in this parochial society popularly known as America, are susceptible to territorial (whether geographical, stylistic or generational) chauvinism and/or exclusivity so it is more than interesting that Dennis consciously drew on creative musicians from different geographies to help fulfill the vision of a new music.
What Dennis really had in mind was connecting three foci of creative musicians in one session. Hence the title New Dallasorleanssippi.
"In the course of talking to Alvin Fielder (drummer with the New Orleans-based Improvisational Arts Quintet) over the past two years, we decided it might be a good thing to start a
'triangle' collaboration, the triangle being performances in Dallas, Jackson, Mississippi, and New Orleans, sometimes bringing in people like Charles Brackeen and Malachi Favors to round out the group."
Alvin Fielder lives in Jackson, Mississippi. He's a pharmacist by trade but a creative musician by vocation. A percussionist and one of the early members of the AACM (check out those early Delmark recordings), after returning home to the South, he continued his innovative drum work. Alvin is not a timekeeper in the metronomic sense. He does not use regularly spaced beats, but rather a seamless surge of rhythm. His drumming moves with the elegance and force of a deep river rounding bends in a swift, southward sweep that carries everything along in a smooth continuous motion girded by an undertow of fierce strength.
Dennis Gonzalez, Alvin Fielder and "Kidd" Jordan, the third major force on this LP have been playing together for two years. Jordan is co-leader with Fielder of the Improvisational Arts Quintet.
The recipient of a French knighthood for his contributions to musical culture, "Kidd" Jordan is a wonder. A well-schooled musician/educator, Jordan is an uncompromising reed player who has developed a technique that hits with a sonic force not heard since the months preceding Trane's ascension. Jordan plays hard, in the extreme upper-register of his horn. "Kidd's" technique is akin to bugle blowing – he gets a piercing brassy sound and at times eschews the keys altogether, producing different timbres with his embouchure.
With this geographical trio of musicians as a foundation, the development of this recording session was really a natural progression, proceeding from mutual admiration among Gonzalez, Fielder and Jordan for each other's music, to jamming and gigging together, to actually recording.
Here is precisely where the genius and leadership of Dennis Gonzalez shone – it is one thing to jam together and quite another to make a recording with musicians who are not a band. Rehearsal time would be limited, repertoire would be a big question, and of course one could never tell what the chemistry would be between musicians who had not previously worked as a band.
Additionally, the first choices for musicians were not available and substitutions had to be made. Bassist Elton Heron (also of the Improvisational Arts Quintet) was tied up on another project. Bring in Malachi Favors, who, as circumstances would have it, is originally from Mississippi. Trumpeter Roy Hargrove, the 17-year old from Dallas who was discovered by Wynton Marsalis, was called to an All-State concert in San Antonio. Bring in trumpeter MarIon Jordan, also 17, the son of Kidd Jordan, playing Wynton's old horn.
Dallas drummer W. A. Richardson has recorded with Dennis previously so he was an obvious choice. Bassist Henry Franklin, who makes his home in L.A. but commutes frequently to Dallas was chosen by Dennis because of his flexibility.
The eighth member, saxophonist Charles Brackeen, is one of those jazz legends. People in the know have heard about him, but his recorded legacy is slim and he had dropped off the scene for a number of years. Dennis' determination and persistence led to a contact. Someone suggested he talk to someone else, a number was secured and the next thing you know Brackeen is recording with Gonzalez in Dallas.
"I talk to people on the phone and try to get a feel from them as to whether they would be right for the project," is how Dennis modestly explains it. But it's more than just some vague phone vibes." Dennis treks to Europe annually and works with numerous musicians he has never met before, so he has had to develop the carpenter's skill of selecting sturdy wood at just a glance, or with one quick sounding. As the results of this session make clear, Dennis is a master music builder who understands how to put the human elements together and it is indeed the human element that makes jazz exciting.
Dennis had asked the participating musicians to bring original music and hence five selections by five different composers are presented. Two of the five selections, because of space limitations, are only available on CD.
"THE MASSES" is a Charles Brackeen composition that rises and falls on the strength of the solos – you have your own ears, no one need tell you that the music is strong. I must make mention, however, of Malachi's astounding command of timbres which he can elicit from the acoustic bass. This solo unequivocably reminds us that the bass is a percussive instrument.
"INNOCENCE" by drummer W. A. Richardson is an impressionistic piece, developed collectively with a fragile beauty that whispers and wafts wistfully like light summer rain.
"DEBENGE-DEBENGE", says composer Gonzalez, is "based on an ancient Muslim hymn which I heard a Muslim liturgical group sing. It reminded me of the old New Orleans blues and street music." Here the group successfully sustains small group collective improvisation balanced by solo statements. Gonzalez's characterization, "blues and street music", is an accurate summation, except that, in this case, both the blues and the street music are highly urbanized, jumping out from a city of the 80's that has a long history of resistance to regimentation and is peopled by diverse progressive ethnic groupings.
Although there is no set formula for producing new music, for sure there is a key ingredient: the human element, the musician. The freshness of this set is reflective of the vigor and seriousness with which these men, some of them a full generation apart, approach their art.
This Deep South jazz development is significant, especially when one considers that most other major developments have taken place north of the Mason-Dixon line. It is an affirmation of the ubiquity of the human creative spirit that visionaries such as Dallas-based Dennis Gonzalez are creating a bold new music in the modern jazz idiom while remaining rooted in a Southern sensibility – the same sensibility which, quiet as it's kept, is the one that produced this music in the first place.

Kalamu ya Salaam
Executive Director of the New Orleans Cultural Foundation
and author of "Our Music Is No Accident"

 
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