Yells at Eels Were Telepathic Improvisers at Crown & Harp Last Night
Yells at Eels with special guest John Dikeman (middle) last night at Crown & Harp
Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions With Yells at Eels, Peladini, Viator and Burnt Bridge Road Crown & Harp, Dallas Monday, January 5, 2014
This week's installment of Stefan González's Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions ended with an incredible improvised set from Yells at Eels featuring John Dikeman, an American saxophonist now living in Amsterdam who has led countless bands in several countries. He is known for his improvisational skills and his free jazz is so fast and loud that some refer to it as "jazz punk." Dikeman has performed as a soloist with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra and will be back in Amsterdam performing with the Royal Improvisers Orchestra later this week.
It was a very cold night, the first Monday of the year, but a large crowd packed into Crown & Harp for this free show. On Mondays, González has a strong contender for best night of music in Dallas and people have noticed. This is where you go to hear sounds you have never heard before, fascinating collaborations and bizarre one-man bands. It doesn't hurt, either, that Gonzalez is a world-class drummer and he regularly performs in the showcase.
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Improvisation is a key element of jazz. This improvised group collaboration or interplay is also one of the most interesting things about jazz, a fact that has famously inspired poets and painters, and on Monday night it was an incredible thing to witness live. When jazz musicians are improvising, there are all sorts of things that can suddenly alter a melody, harmony or time signature. A musician's mood or an interaction with another musician can change things. Audience response can certainly affect the improvisation and the connection between the audience and Yells at Eels was palpable.
Free jazz was considered a break from convention because it abandoned fixed chord changes or tempos and focused on collective improvisation. Free jazz is often referred to as avant garde, but its focus on collective improvisation and the highly spiritual nature of the music have also been considered a return to jazz at its roots. For decades it was believed that jazz could not be composed because it requires group interaction. It is difficult to imagine a composition that could mimic this set from Yells at Eels.
On drums for Yells at Eels, González was at the center of the stage, ferocious. It was like being in the same building as Godzilla. He was hitting those drums harder than Elvin Jones or Tony Williams and the crowd manifested ecstatic joy throughout the entire set. Everyone got as close to the stage as they could, people in booths stood on their seats, no one could take their eyes off the stage. When he focused on his brother Aaron on double bass, it seemed clear that telepathy is possible.
Aaron González sounded very thematic and playful. It is incredible to hear a recording of someone playing a standup bass as fast as bebop and faster, but to see it in person is breathtaking. Dude's got some strong fingers and ridiculous technique. Not only did he keep the breakneck pace, but he always seemed to be doing his own thing, sticking out in a quartet with a screaming saxophone, and when the brothers were focusing on each other it was probably the best thing we heard all night.
Dikeman, being the honored guest of the set, stood front and center. Sometimes he would use harsh overblowing to get that donkey or car horn sound you hear on John Coltrane's Impulse! Records and sometimes he sounded quite lyrical, like Coltrane on Prestige. But his saxophone mostly had a high-pitched scream or a rapid-fire noise like Ornette Coleman. He sounded incredible with the bass and drums and it would have been even more interesting if a guitar had been thrown in.
Stefan and Aaron's father, Dennis González, played trumpet and led the group. He gestured and gave instructions, was completely relaxed, obviously enjoying himself, even took pictures of his bandmates and the crowd with his phone. (This family dynamic may make for the cutest jazz ensemble you'll ever see. His fatherly pride is just too good.) He had some good exchanges with Dikeman, but really managed to look at what each musician was doing, process it as a whole, respond to it with his trumpet with something that seemed to encompass it all, put a lid on it, and steer the band in another direction. He yelled once into a microphone, as if to suggest a chant. The crowd picked up on it immediately and started repeating the shout in unison.
Of course, the point of the Mixtape Sessions is bring together a host of different acts, and Monday had a plenty eclectic roster. Earlier in the night, Peladini, a one-man band with four music sequencers, an electric guitar and an enormous guitar pedal also impressed the crowd. His ability to shape sound with those machines was masterful. He started his set with a slow lounge sound that sped up and got stranger until it was a little cloying. Then he really picked up the speed with sounds that were gleeful and maniacal.
Viator, a drummer and guitarist with pantyhose on their heads, also played an interesting set. They started off with a surf rock intro and then played two black metal songs that came across as fun. Burnt Bridge Road, another one-man band with an electric guitar, opened the show. He wore sunglasses and had a nice voice that was bluesy and soulful.
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