Texas trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez, backed by his perfectly named Inspiration Band, released The Nile River Suite in 2004. A look at Discogs reveals one available used copy for a little over $30. This is discouraging, as it is merely one of the greatest–one of the deepest, one of the most moving–jazz albums of the millennium.
Three of the compositions were written by Gonzalez; the miraculous title piece is credited to all the musicians, and…what a lineup: Roy Campbell Jr. on trumpet and flute, the unsung master Sabir Mateen on all manner of reed, “T. A” Thompson on drums, and the legendary Henry Grimes on bass in his first appearance in years. Though these players are accurately associated with the free genre, Nile River Suite is not a work of cathartic expressionism or conversational blips, blats, and blurts (not that there’s anything wrong with those)–it’s a masterpiece of surprisingly quiet intensity, studded with lyrical exchanges you won’t soon forget (between Thompson and Grimes in particular) and arrangements that magically exploit the two-trumpet lineup but also give Mateen the spotlight in which to prove he’s the greatest saxophonist you’ve never heard of. Gonzalez manages to conjure the desert in “Sand Baptist,” and send the listener out in meditation with the closing “Hymn for the Ashes of Saturday”; his writing and voicings made me think of Coleman, Mingus, Tapscott, and Ibrahim, but a sidetrack to two other Gonzalez works (Idle Wild, Debenge Debenge, both of which I also highly recommend) confirmed for me that what’s in play is Gonzalez’s unique vision.
One other note: the album was recorded in lustrous and detailed fidelity, which intensifies the sensation of unified intent and shared emotion the group’s performance generates.
I repeat: one of the greatest jazz albums of the millennium. Good luck scoring a copy, and there’s no audio to share here. But it is a most worthy Grail search.
Check out more of Gonzalez’s work at his Bandcamp page and on his blog. Also, a special thank you to Ken Shimamoto, The Stash Dauber, for putting me on Dennis’ trail. Ken has written some exceptional liner notes for a few of Gonzalez’s records.
Songhoy Blues: Music in Exile
Oruç Güvenç and Tümata: River of One
Soul Sok Sega–Séga Sounds from Mauritius 1973-1979