Dennis González Yells At Eels - Cape of Storms

Ken Waxman, JazzWord

Over the past two decades Dallas-based trumpeter Dennis González has evolved two strategies in order to play advanced improvised music. Since he was the only so-called avant-grade musician in the city, he frequently invites out-of-town stylists to play with him. The other part of his plan has taken place literally on his home turf: he’s grown his own improvisers. The Yells at Eels’ band demonstrates this, since its rhythm section is made up of González’s sons, Aaron on double bass and Stefan on vibes and percussion.

Cape of Storms’ 10 sprightly, well-played tunes demonstrate the benefits of this policy, while confirming that the González siblings are on board for musical not nepotistic reasons. As an added bonus the González tribe is shored up by two distinguished visitors: Freebop saxophonist Tim Green from New Orleans and legendary drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo from Cape Town, South Africa. Thick muscular pacing from the bassist sets up many of the tracks, while Stefan González’s clattering vibraphone refraction, kalimba-like plucks or strokes from the djembe or other ancillary percussion, define many compositions’ rhythmic centres as effectively as Moholo-Moholo’s more traditional Jazz-based drumming.

For instance the undulating beat created by the three rhythm players on British saxophonist Jason Yarde’s “Tag” – the CD’s single tune not written by one of the Gonzálezes – matches Aaron González’s strums and steady walking with ruffs and flams from both drummers and finally brassy, triplet-leaden trumpet runs from Dennis González. Eventually the theme is resolved as trumpet yelps and double-tonguing rubato slurs from Green are matched with a low-pitched bull fiddle tone.

More use of the polyphonic skills available from all five players is made on the two variants of the Dennis González-composed title track. Green, who has recorded with pianist Mulgrew Miller in the past, makes his most affecting statement on “Cape of Storms I”. Following swaying octave runs from the bass and resonating lopes from the vibes, the saxophonist’s high-energy, Tranesque snorts deconstruct the exposition. The resulting miasma lasts until a flutter-tongued interjection from the trumpeter, subsequently echoed by the saxophonist, mutes the cacophony and finally buries it under a pseudo-martial beat from Moholo-Moholo.

Tackled a second time, this musical homage to the drummer’s Cape Town birthplace explodes with guiro-like rasps, the shaking of sleigh bells, the striking of a gong, concentrated drum ruffs and flams plus distanced cymbal reverberations, most courtesy of Stefan González. The tune only reveals it linear quality mid-way through when abrasive, adagio vibraphone rolls intersect with slurred plunger work from the trumpeter presaging a conclusive diminishing bass string thump.

Working together with multi harmonies and rhythms, the quintet confirms its flexibility with the concluding “Snakehandler”. Another Latinized composition by Dennis González, its arrangement demonstrates the similarities between beats from the southern United States and South Africa, especially when conga-like drum pops and pats complement patterns from Moholo-Moholo’s full kit. All of this serves as background to plunger work from the composer that could easily fit in among vamps from the brass section of a Salsa band. Contrast is provided by Aaron González’s straight-ahead string strums, carefully wedded to the contemporary Jazz tradition.

Someone who has accomplished the difficult task of becoming both musically unique and accommodating, on this disc – and most of his other CDs – Dennis González proves that his playing and composing can work in almost any context. And that takes place whether the other players come from thousands of miles away or from his own home.