Saturday, 4 August 2012

The ghosts of Chicago and Aram Shelton.

A few weeks ago a little white box dropped onto my doorstep from Oakland (USA). Inside were two albums sent from Singlespeed Music, Aram Shelton Quartet : 'Everything for Somebody' and Arts and Science : 'New You', a nice surprise indeed. I'll get to the excellent Arts and Science later on, but firstly ....

The ghost of Ornette (?!), and Aram Shelton ...

I'd come across Aram's music a few years ago when reviewing an album from 'Grey Ghost' on the Free Jazz Blog. From re-reading the review I obviously liked the record and it seems that it was a good introduction to the work of Aram Shelton, a saxophone player who's presently based in Oakland. Since then I've heard one of Aram's 'Arrive' projects which I also found excellent and probably more in tune with the most recent release. What's so refreshing to hear is Aram's approach to playing, his harmonic concept in musical language. Most players today take their models as Mark Turner (=Warne Marsh+Coltrane), Chris Potter (=Bird+Coltrane) or maybe a more modern giant such as Mike Brecker. But rarely do I hear younger players developing their ideas from the free-er schools. Here Aram Shelton and his team really develop this area in what (I guess) seems to be something of a Chicago school style? Players such as Von Freeman, Ken Vandermark, or even that of Joe McPhee, Roscoe Mitchell and Braxton don't seem to be on the top of the list for younger players looking to develop musically in conservatories, and I must say (on hindsight) I wonder why? More recently some of the younger players emerging from the shadows are looking again for new directions developed from lessons learnt on the free scene. The AACM and Ornette Coleman are two names that are more known by the general 'jazz listening' public, however the average club or association still finds it difficult to program more experimental sounds. This is where the music of Aram Shelton really finds an interesting crack in the armour. His style of composition and playing certainly look for new directions, at the same time managing to stay bluesy and open ended.

Lastly, one shouldn't forget the team that works with Aram on this album. It seems (from what I read) that Aram spent much time up in Chicago and met and started working with various top players from the windy city. His excellent quartet is made up of fine players - from Chicago - all of whom make the music happen, as it should. Tim Daisy (is to my mind) one of the top drummers on the jazz scene. Due to not living in NY he doesn't often feature in top lists of drummers. However, to my mind, Daisy is on the same lines as drummers such as Tom Rainey or Jim Black. A very swinging drummer also playing improvised music, abstract or melodic. Check out the Engines, or Vandermark 5 for a few references. Keefe Jackson (tenor sax) is very active on the Chicago scene and seems to be involved in many projects. His playing somehow reminds me of the direction that Dewey Redman took in Ornette's band, certainly a player that I'll be following up. And finally Anton Hatwich the bassman on this record swings like the clappers and provides solid support for the front-line to play their winding melodies or improvisations. There are few moments on the record that we get to hear Anton play some solo points but he basically anchors the whole thing together along with Tim Daisy ... amazing stuff.

Here's the review I posted on the Free Jazz blog :

As the press release states, this is jazz music inspired by the likes of Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Mingus and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. I guess that looks like a tall order to fill, but Aram Shelton doesn't fail you one second on this excellent release. It's also - for those interested (like me) - the second album from the 4tet on Shelton's Singlespeedmusic label.

Everything for Somebody is one of those albums like much of the music coming out of the Chicago scene, a mixture of free and composed jazz. Although Shelton isn't based in Chicago he seems to have put together this group from his earlier residency there. Members Keefe Jackson (tenor sax), Anton Hatwich (bass) and the most recent addition Tim Daisy (drums) .. a name that shouldn't need any introduction! One could try and get philosophical about this music, but somehow there doesn't seem to be any need as it's music that touches the listener right from the opening notes. 'Anticipation' which dances away on a simple joyful swinging melody leaves space for the two major soloists of Jackson and Shelton to blow simple melodic improvisations. The dancing melody starts as an easily memorable melody but the two soloists dig deep helping to yield hidden secrets gradually, balancing a fine line between free-bop and more dense melodic improvisation. It's this 'fine line' that carries itself through the record, and for me makes this not only highly listenable, but also a refreshing breath of air.

The opening sounds of 'Everything for Somebody' almost takes you back to hearing Ornette for the first time with his famous quartet, although here it's two saxes. Keefe Jackson blows some powerful free-bop lines that really hang together in the same way the Dewey Redman managed. Aram Shelton seems to play some serious lines on this tune which are a marvel to behold, floating over the swinging bass and drums like a butterfly in the wind. The energy of the the whole group never lets up for one minute, holding your attention throughout. All the tunes on this release are very strong, adventurous in style and thinking, they ultimately carry the musicians to areas where they can find new ideas. 'Joints and Tendons' really explores sound textures for all the group, setting up each member in a duo context whilst cleverly weaving in melodic fragments.'Deadfall' is a mournful cry for the solo alto of Shelton cueing in the group (several minutes into the piece) into a gorgeous arpeggiated melody. The rest of the band grab this and gradually build into a wailing free-for-all before finding their way back to the serenity of the initial melody. 'Fleeting', the final track treats us to some fine free flowing ideas from the whole band with solos from all and a wonderful Ornette-esque melody to sandwich the ideas.

Another fine album from Aram Shelton who seems (from what I've seen) to be a very interesting voice in the world between improvised music and free jazz. His wonderful Arrive albums (*), electro acoustic experiments, Cylinder and other such projects go to show that Shelton is constantly looking for new avenues of experimentation.

A highly recommended album for those who enjoy the meeting of swing and free jazz. Some tags could be - Ornette Coleman, Atomic, Motif, The Engines, Vandermark 5 ... if you see what I mean! 

*= There's a first Arrive album is on Singlespeedmusic.

Barely Talking (Tk 4)

Lastly, if you find all of this interesting I've noticed that Aram Shelton seems to be open to working with many people and can be found on a vast array of albums coming out at the present. Some of these are Fast Citizens, Art and Science (to be reviewed soon), Cylinder, Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown, and of course his own projects. If you pass by Aram's website you can investigated all the various projects and latest news of releases on his Singlespeed Music label.

A few tips ... visit to find a copy of Grey Ghost and a LOT of other tasty pieces of music, for free (although a little donation won't hurt).

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