All sorts of jazz, free jazz and improv. Never for money, always for love.
Styles, genres, and categories don't really mean a lot in music -- they're marketing conveniences, no more. I've long maintained that anyone can play with anyone else, as long as everyone involved listens and allows the others space. So it was no surprise to me around this time last year when I got wind that Fort Worth's dark, heavy experimental duo Pinkish Black were convening at Cloudland Studio with Dallas' free jazz family trio Yells At Eels. While the bands' approaches to composition and improvisation diverge widely, their stature and shared respect gave their convergence the potential to produce something substantive.
They had a mutual admiration society dating from the days when brothers Aaron and Stefan Gonzalez used to book all-ages punk shows at their parents' Oak Cliff home. Aaron and Stefan had played thrash metal under the rubric Akkolyte before luring their free jazz eminence father, trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez, out of musical retirement to form Yells At Eels in 2001. (An early Yells At Eels composition was entitled "Free Jazz Is Thrash, Asshole.") Pinkish Black drummer/synthesist Jon Teague had subbed for Stefan on a memorable 2008 Yells At Eels gig, and had participated in the improv project "Age of Disinformation" with Aaron that same year.
Typically, Teague and his bandmate, keyboardist/synthesist Daron Beck, deal in spectral atmospherics and monolithic slabs of sound, replete with menace. Yells At Eels is more of a tug of war between the relentless energy and restless invention of the brothers' bass and drums and the grounded spirituality and lyricism of their father's trumpet. On Vanishing Light in the Tunnel of Dreams, the merging of these entities comes about by degrees.
The opening "Meditation" finds Pinkish Black creating a sound world for Yells At Eels to inhabit. "Slow Cascade of Tears" is introduced by Stefan's marimba before Dennis and Aaron make their melodic statements in turn, over Teague's thunderous backing. Aaron Gonzalez particularly shines on this date, whether wrestling deep, woody tones from his acoustic bass, or laying down elastic lines on electric, summoning the spirits of Jack Bruce, John Wetton, and Yannick Top on "Heatstroke Mirage." When Dennis kicks on his harmonizer pedal and blends his sound with Daron Beck's swirling accompaniment, the transformation is underway. The title track opens with a lengthy ambient section before the conversation is joined, its spaciousness reminding this listener of the moody drone pieces on Don Cherry's Brown Rice album.
The culmination of this journey comes on "The Sorrow of Guernica," which dwells on more immediate concerns than Picasso's anti-war masterpiece -- because in the months before the session, Dennis Gonzalez and both members of Pinkish Black had been dealing with health issues, and this music is suffused with awareness of mortality as well as the urge to achieve transcendence. Stefan Gonzalez's marimba tells that story, in the way he backs his father's somber song and then follows his brother's elegiac solo with a tortuous, yet melodic one of his own. Beck makes his own brief comments before the close; Teague anchors the whole piece with assertive sensitivity.
Cloudland's Britt Robisheaux, whose yeoman work helped make Pinkish Black's Concept Unification their strongest work yet, did a masterful job of capturing every element and nuance of this music as it went down, and Daron Beck mixed and mastered it during the pandemic lockdown. Released on Stéphane Berland's estimable French indie Ayler Records, its beauty and majesty are eminently worthy of your ears.
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