|In June of 2003, jazz trumpet players all over the world opened up their e-mails and found an invitation from Roy Campbell and Dave Douglas, both leading trumpet lights of the New York scene, and both internationally known. Campbell and Douglas wanted to put together what they called the First (Annual?) Trumpet Festival at Tonic in New York. With no budget and very little time, they managed to pull August weekends at Tonic and rounded up a veritable Who’s Who of trumpet players from all over the globe to give of their time and music to making this festival fly. Butch Morris put together one of his conductions; Bill Dixon agreed to come (though his gig was cancelled because of the Big Blackout); Franz Hautzinger, Raphe Malik, Paul Smoker, Lewis Barnes, Matt Lavelle, Cuong Vu, and Graham Haynes all were there.
One of the invitees – “a rare visitor to New York”, as Time Out New York described him – was also called up to do the festival with a quartet. This rare visitor dubbed his group Dennis González N Y Quartet, and the quartet that played Tonic with him on a rainy August night featured smoldering tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, contrabass scientist Mark Helias, and by divine happenstance, the spirit-filled unrehearsed drumstrokes of Mike Thompson. During the rehearsal/soundcheck that afternoon, it was Helias who had mentioned being asked by Pedro Costa of Clean Feed Records in Portugal if it was possible that the Tonic gig would be recorded live.
Let me stop here and go back a decade. In 1994, after recording a series of dates for Silkheart, Koch, and other labels in the 1980's and early 90's - with leaders and sidemen including Charles Brackeen, Andrew Cyrille, Fred Hopkins, Malachi Favors, Carlos Ward, Louis Moholo, Keith Tippett, Elton Dean, Nels Cline, Olu Dara and others, I decided to quit the world of jazz. Many thought that perhaps Dennis Gonzalez had even left this plane of existence. But in 1999, after re-thinking and re-structuring a lot of things in my life, I decided to jump back in with a new trio, Yells At Eels, with my sons Aaron (on bass) and Stefan (on drums). For the next four years, we traversed the U.S with our new music, a cross between hardcore punk and avant-jazz. In fact, most of the music played by the N Y Quartet at Tonic was rehearsed and rigorously perfected by that trio at home in Dallas, Texas, in the weeks before the concert.
As it turned out, the 8-track only got 35 minutes of music that evening, but it was obvious to me that Ellery, Mark, and Mike had touched on some music that would not stay put, that returned again and again to deeper elements, even though none of the musicians had even been in the same room - much less played together - before August 9, 2003. Upon hearing the recording, Clean Feed agreed to support a studio recording of the N Y Quartet. We got together in Soho, and with Jon Rosenberg at the controls, knocked out N Y Midnight Suite in just under 5 hours.
The Suite itself was sketched out at midnight the night before the session in a cold, cramped, hotel room – a reflection of what I heard in the New York City midnight that would sound again in the fluid air of meeting, in the stream of sound with its night, and with the stars of morning.