Hypnotized by “The Nile River Suite” (February 20th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

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.

Short-shrift Division:

Songhoy Blues: Music in Exile

Oruç Güvenç and Tümata: River of One

Soul Sok Sega–Séga Sounds from Mauritius 1973-1979

Songhoy, But Not Blues (February 18th, 2018, St. Louis / Columbia, Missouri)

In St. Louis for the weekend to hear George Saunders (see 2/17/18) and see Black Panther (today), we did both some jetting and lazing around, including trips to a Vietnamese restaurant we’ve been frequenting for almost 30 years, the Pho Grand, and Mission Taco, which almost assassinated us with horrible piped-in hipster ambience and lazily-prepared and overpriced cocktails. So we didn’t have much time to focus on music, but…couple things:

Caught up with Songhoy Blues’ 2017 release, Résistance. The Malian unit is loved by many folks because they rock it out, and distrusted by many because they are thus impure desert bluesologists. I hold with the former group. I shouldn’t need to say that purity is overrated (if it is even real), and impurities often bring us surprise and delight. They can also lead to a messy artistic experience, but, unlike its predecessor Music in Exile, which sinned simply by rocking up the percussion and guitar ideas, Résistance folds in reggae, funk, horns, Iggy Pop as well and comes out alive. How? Intensity. Commitment. Inspiration.

Nicole: “You know, I think I am going to put together a Top 10 this year, and this is gonna be on it.” It’s slightly old to make a 2018 list, but I’m not going to tell her that–and years are arbitrary constructs anyway, kind of.

Fairly final thoughts on Black Panther The Album–Music from and Inspired by The Film:

“Inspired,” quite honestly, is a poor choice of words. The movie is pure dynamite: it’s visually stunning, conceptually rich, and wonderfully acted. Not a dull moment. The album, however, is frequently dull. Even Mr. Lamar does little but holler a few repetitive hooks; his lyrics only occasionally seem to make contact with the world of the film. The highlights are drop-ins by Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul, and those are fleeting highs. All in all, a missed opportunity.

I did have a few minor caveats/questions about the film:

*Why do we spend so much time seeing Africans fight Africans? Perhaps there is a longer game the franchise is playing?

*Incorporating a CIA operator into one’s fold is a bizarre move for an African king. I know it’s an alternative, fictional world, but it’s running side-by-side with the U.S.A.’s real history of subjugation, brutality, and oppression. Hasn’t T’Challa read up on, to take just one instance, Patrice Lumumba? Aside from that, there’s just a dollop of white saviorism in play, and, as my friend Greg pointed out in a Facebook post, the political conciliation at the movie’s end is somewhat disappointing.

But–it’s of great art that we ask such questions, because it raises the bar of the possible. I’m thinking about going again today, not to investigate but just luxuriate in its brilliance.