Natto & Dennis Gonzalez Yells At Eels
Houston TX, 14 April 2001
Rice University's radio station KTRU sponsors an all-day outdoor
festival that mixes musical genres from the cutting edge of their
respective disciplines. This year, the jazz segment was represented
by two opposite-pole groups that showed just how diverse the music
can be. The shows were held on Rice's lovely campus grounds and attracted
primarily a student audience, although word leaked out to the public
even though publicity was minimal.
Philip Gelb, the shakuhachi player from California, and Trio Natto
with koto player Shoko Hikage and electronic and computer wizard Tim
Perkis was invited for this 2001 event, and he brought along koto
player Shoko Hikage and electronic and computer wizard Tim Perkis.
They opened by spinning a veil of gossamery fabric using aspects of
the Oriental musical culture as a basis for their internalized communication.
Gelb is a mystical player who evokes ancestral spirits that seem to
awaken within his instrument and cause the band to levitate with them.
He took in-depth excursions into Eastern realms where images of Tibetan
monks and Western improvisers appeared to meet in harmony. The traditional
Japanese bamboo flute comes in varying lengths that produce different
tonalities, and Gelb showed his expertise on instruments in the 1.8
alto and 2.4 soprano range.
Shoko added further to the illusion, playing serene, compelling music
reflecting visions of exotic dreams. She gingerly stroked the strings,
filling the air with delicate spatial tones while Gelb puffed simulated
smoke rings of varied musical texture. Perkis tastefully inserted
electronic coloring and complementary computer sounds to maintain
the sČance-like mood.
David Dove, a Houston mainstay on the creative improvised scene,
was invited to join the trio after the opening number and remained
for the balance of the set. He merged in a droning, hypnotic dirge
by emitting low register waves of dense growls and intermittent barks
in a steady flow of semi-liquefied lava. He added measurably to the
density of the music through the colored patterns he supplied. The
session conjured up visions of drifting tumbleweed rolling gently
over the grasslands. Although the outdoor venue was not truly conducive
to this form of hypnosis, the music had trance-inducing qualities
abetted by the hot afternoon sun. Attentive listening equated to
a rewarding musical experience.
Dennis Gonzalez created a much different sensation with robust, driving
music based on his highly rhythmic compositions. His band Yells at
Eels includes his two sons, Aaron on bass and guitar, and Stefan on
drums, and they supplement their concerts with invited artists. Rounding
out the band for this session were tenor player Tim Green and keyboard
specialist Frank LoCrasto. They produced a jolting opening to snap
the audience out of the trance state set by Gelb. D. Gonzalez made
dancing fire with his trumpet, using his noted brand of music that
includes a distinguishable melody line forming a recurring backdrop
for the free improvisations to follow. He acted as a lightning rod
that transmitted energy and incited the band into energized action.
Tim Green was the major recipient of this conductive power. He branched
off the themes and rolled into high gear with stimulating improvisations
while a constant flow of theme/rhythm surged from the band.
compositions have a mesmerizing quality of their own, and it is not
based on serenity. When the band rolled into the mournful ballad "Ganesha
the Spy," the soulful tones of Green's tenor gushed with anguished
cries. A. Gonzalez set the dense pattern on upright bass and S. Gonzalez
continually pushed from behind. A. Gonzalez also played electric bass
and guitar during the set with similar motivational effects. LoCrasto
altered the sound of his keyboard on this tune to simulate steel drums,
and then moved into a modal piano run before Dennis made his own passionate
was really in a cooking mood after that, and jelled with an uptempo
sprint where LoCrasto, Green, and D. Gonzalez got into a collectively
improvised mode as a bridge between individual solos by each. Green
was into power playing and exuded energy to spare as he blew with
intelligent authority. One of D. Gonzalez's most motivating compositions
is "Hymn for Julius Hemphill," and this band played an exciting rendition
of the tribute song and its nine-note recurring rhythm pattern. It
was a fitting closing to a session that had the stamp of D. Gonzalez
all over it. His music can put you in a joyous mood in the same way
Abdullah Ibrahim's music can, and it had exactly that effect on this
contrasting day of music.
The Rice Outdoor Festival was plagued with an occasionally distorted
sound system and no counteraction to microphone wind noise, but somehow
both groups overcame these difficulties and produced music of significant
yet differing beauty.