Choice Cuts: Dennis Gonzalez' 10 Favorite Jazz Records
Photo courtesy Jan Bebel
In a new series, Choice Cuts, Jonathan Patrick talks with artists - both local and international - about their favorite records.
Most jazz musicians fall into one of two avenues. They either approach their performances with the instincts of a sculptor or with those of a bulldozer. Dallas' Dennis Gonzalez, however, does both. I've been captivated by Gonzalez since the very first moment I witnessed him play. And I've yet to be anything but dazzled by the trumpeter's offerings, both live and on tape.
There's no question, Dallas jazz is synonymous with the name Gonzalez. For over three decades, and with over 55 recordings, this musician, visual artist, writer and educator has been adding much-needed girth to our ever-thirsty jazz community. Not to mention, his style speaks of an artist who has thoroughly internalized the musical traditions and uniqueness of the Dallas arts scene.
In addition to performing in festivals and concerts throughout the globe, Gonzalez has hosted a slew of radio programs, including the 21-year-run of Dallas KERA jazz broadcast "Miles Out." The point being, no one in Dallas knows Jazz like he does.
On August 2, Gonzalez will be traveling to Minnesota to play in a concert series whose theme centers on his hymn cycle -- a string of compositions, 30 years in the making, that he composed in dedication to his most beloved influences (Don Cherry, Albert Ayler and King Sunny Ade included). In celebration of this honor, I caught up with Gonzalez to discuss his favorite jazz records.
Big Fun - Miles Davis
Many of my listeners suppose that I listened predominantly to jazz trumpet players during my formative years. But, actually, I didn't decide to play jazz until 1974, which is when Big Fun by Miles Davis came out. I played rock and roll before I played jazz, and this came along at a time when I was looking for a new direction... It was a huge revelation.
Was Big Fun the first jazz LP you really got into?
When I was a sophomore in high school, I was having a lot of trouble concentrating on learning to play band music. The assistant director approached me one day near the beginning of summer break, and said that he felt my frustration and disinterest. He told me that I sounded like I had been listening to avant garde jazz. I had no idea what he meant. So, the next day he brought me his personal copy of Sam Rivers' Contours. After several weeks of listening to it over and over, I began to understand the patterns, the improvisations, just how amazing these musicians were. So Contours was really the very first modern jazz record I got into.
Solstice - Ralph Towner
Listen to the last 40 seconds of "Oceanus," by acoustic guitarist/pianist/French hornist Ralph Towner, and you will understand the intertwining of timelessness and the fleeting nature of beauty that pervades this poetic music.
Brown Rice - Don Cherry
Like Miles' Big Fun, Brown Rice brings together a rich rhythmic sensibility with screaming saxophone, exotic chants and great explorations in (pocket) trumpet glossolalia. He always brought back treasures from his famed world travels, and the ones he displays on this album are the most magical of all.
Balladyna - Tomasz Stańko
As I said before, I didn't listen much to trumpet players before 1974, but this guy is one of my great influences. Polish trumpeter Stańko's apprenticeship with the great film composer Krzysztof Komeda in his early years comes to fruition on this piano-less quartet session that swings mightily. A sense of folk music and foreboding fill the album with sorrow and celebration.
Nice Guys - Art Ensemble of Chicago
I had heard about the legendary Art Ensemble for a long time, but they had taken a break in recording for five years. When they finally released Nice Guys, they exploded into my consciousness and onto the international music scene, all at once. I then had to go back and dig up their earlier stuff, which involved their own distillation of many traditions: theater, shamanism, storytelling, humor, ritual and roots music.
Catechism - Dennis Gonzalez Dallas-London 6tet
Here we have the saxophonist from Soft Machine (Elton Dean), King Crimson's pianist (Keith Tippett), the South African expatriate drummer Louis Moholo, Brazilian bassist Marcio Mattos and two Dallas trumpeters. And yes, it's my own CD as a leader, but you asked for my 10 favorite jazz albums, and this is one of them.
Lord of Lords - Alice Coltrane
The godmother of the Santana/Coltrane/Mahavishnu axis here with an orchestral work of intense spirituality. My wife actually turned me on to this. It features Thelonious Monk's drummer Ben Riley and the bassist Charlie Haden -- who just passed -- along with a 23-piece string ensemble. Alice Coltrane, who was John Coltrane's wife and bandmate, plays harp, piano, and Hammond organ. It's breathtaking.
Caravanserai - Carlos Santana
With this, along with Welcome, Love Devotion and Surrender, Illuminations, Lotus, Borboletta and Oneness, Santana opened up his heart and music to the influences of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane and his playing partner John McLaughlin. This is the strongest, in my opinion, of the string of jazz records he made. This is Santana at his most compassionate.
Nan Madol - Edward Vesala
My interest in openly orchestrated jazz and the study and use of sound itself came from the music of Finnish percussionist/drummer/composer Edward Vesala, specifically his LP Nan Madol.
Gateway - John Abercrombie/Dave Holland/Jack DeJohnette
The music of this power trio is constantly shifting from Country blues to almost Hendrixian acid-guitar jazz. It's a complete and elegant statement from beginning to end...a precursor to people like Bill Frissell and Nels Cline.
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