Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Yells At Eels' "In Quiet Waters"

It's hard to believe that Yells At Eels has been a band for 15 years now, since bassist Aaron Gonzalez and his brother, drummer Stefan Gonzalez, coaxed their father, the internationally renowned trumpeter-composer Dennis Gonzalez, out of musical retirement. In that time, the three have released a plethora of recordings with an impressive array of guest artists, from eminences of the AACM and the European free improvisation scene to lesser-known (but no less worthy) lights.

In recent years, the sons have stepped out of their father's orbit to do yeoman work with others: recording a trio album with pianist Curtis Clark, touring with guitarist Luis Lopez's Humanization 4tet, forging their own metallic jazz-rock sound with the electrifying trio Unconscious Collective. On his own, Stefan has played in bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten's Texas-Chicago supergroup, Young Mothers.

These studio and live recordings, released on the estimable Polish label For Tune, date from 2013. For the studio dates, the musos in Yells At Eels agreed to "tame down" their intensity. This allows the listener to better appreciate the wealth of detail in their sound, and places YAE in the same sacred and ritual space that Dennis often visits in his visual art, and that his sons frequently inhabit in Unconscious Collective. The result is an atmosphere of gentleness and tranquility, but one with an undertow of dread. For proof positive, hear Dennis and Stefan (on vibraphone)'s unison melodic statements on the opening "Lorca," underpinned by Aaron's trembling arco counterpoint, or the confluence of Dennis' muted trumpet, Stefan's vibes, and Aaron's talking pizzicato line on "Restless Debauchery I."

The beautifully registered live recordings, from a house show in Deep Ellum, are something entirely other. While there's no shortage of live YAE on disc, this is the first time we've been able to hear the full visceral impact of their performance with such immediacy: the casual virtuosity with which Stefan tosses off jaw-dropping patterns and fills (and a solo on "Hymn for Julius Hemphill" -- a tune YAE first recorded in 2002 -- that's an album highlight), the sheer muscularity of Aaron's pizzicato attack (this is no hyperbole; I've seen his shredded fingers after a show), their father's burnished tone and the way he responds melodically to their challenges, the vocalized communication between the players, the audience's ecstatic response.

In Quiet Waters ranks among the very finest recordings from the Gonzalez family. (My list would include The Hymn Project, Scapegrace, A Matter of Blood, Welcome To Us, Catechism, Namesake, and Unconscious Collective's Pleistocene Moon.) Cop via Amulets.


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