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Yells at Eels performs three shows in New Orleans

The free jazz group performs at the Old U.S. Mint, AllWays Lounge and Zeitgeist



The unique attraction of free jazz — aside from the head-on collision of unsettling improvisation and unreal musicianship — lies in its conversational give-and-take. Where most music is a one-way street (i.e., they play, we listen), avant-garde performances feel actively collaborative with their audiences, as if the observer has more at stake than their own entertainment. I remember getting actually nervous at one gig with four masters of the form (Michael Ray, Terrence McManus, Helen Gillet and the late Tim Green) at the Hi-Ho Lounge in 2010. There's a brilliant moment on In Quiet Waters (For Tune), the latest album by trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez' family band Yells at Eels, where the crowd erupts after an extended percussion solo by Dennis' son Stefan, and the realization that it's a live show hits; the whistles, claps and shouts initially register as just another part of the gasp-worthy track. It comes toward the end of "Hymn for Julius Hemphill," a 14-minute head-gonging showoff that could convert any nonbeliever into a disciple. Dennis' slippery trumpet is clearly the lead, but Stefan and brother Aaron (on bass) command the rhythm section and read each other's minds in a way that would have to seem familial if I hadn't witnessed nonrelatives do the exact same thing. The Gonzalezes perform in a series of shows with Portuguese saxophonist and longtime collaborator Rodrigo Amado this week: at 10:30 p.m. Thursday at AllWays Lounge and at 9 p.m. Friday at Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center. The acoustic environment at the Mint — where you're not just able to hear a pin drop, but close enough to feel the grenade go off — makes this matinee concert the one not to miss. Tickets $10.50 ($5.25 students).

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