Dennis Gonzalez

Namesake

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The Dallas-based trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez had one helluva impressive streak going as a facilitator/catalyst in the late '80s, and the "New Dallas Sextet" shapes up as another winner, with four horns offering all sorts of harmonic possibilities. But Namesake doesn't really happen, and it's hard to pinpoint exactly why -- the all-Gonzalez-originals are essentially heads to set up solos rather than fully fleshed-out ensemble passages. And while those solos are almost all strong, the music resolutely remains less than the sum of the parts. The rarely sighted Douglas Ewart takes an angular, astringent, alto solo on the title track, followed by Gonzalez, with a tenor outing by Charles Brackeen that reflects a choppy groove that never really comes together. Ewart's solo over minimal backing on "Separation of Stones" leaps intervals and keeps the listener off-balance as it develops organically. Gets a little confusing with the trumpet solos, though -- it's impossible to tell Gonzales and Ahmed Abdullah apart; one assumes that the muted player is Abdullah, not Gonzalez, but the liner notes say it's the other way around. "Johnny Johnny" opens with a very strong Brackeen solo swirling around Malachi Favors -- Alvin Fielder cross-currents but the elements still lack cohesion. If "Hamba Khale Qhawe" is designed as an African percussion prelude to "Hymn for Mbizo," why stick "Four Pigs and a Bird's Nest" in between them, even with a nice extended muted trumpet solo from Gonzalez? "Hymn for Mbizo" starts with the South African groove Gonzalez is fond of, but switches over completely for Brackeen's solo. The solos are good, with some marvelous trumpet whoops near the end, but it's all in disjointed sections -- maybe it's a lack of connection between Fielder and Favors in the rhythm section. "Good Friends" finds the latter walking double-time with a solo round for Brackeen and Gonzalez (or whoever's playing muted trumpet) that resolves into a sort of mutant big band feel. But it just doesn't come together and that's true for Namesake as a whole. Great musicians, but they're all off playing in their own universes without really coming together and connecting. Some things just don't happen like they should, and this is one of them.

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