Tasting just one slice of the musical pie that is Aram Shelton, one finds him in his Bay area trio with bassist Kurt Kotheimer and drummer Sam Ospovat. His Ton Trio makes a jazz sound reminiscent of a ’60s venture into The New Thing, yet favors a very melodic writing.
The saxophonist gained fame in Chicago in groups including Dragons 1976, Arrive, Grey Ghost, Fast Citizens, and Rapid Croche. His California music has been found in the bands Flockterkit, Son of Gunnar Ton of Shel, the Shelton/Healy duo, the Pink Canoes and Settled. Ton Trio formed in 2007.
The opening “The Way” recalls early Ornette Coleman with Shelton and Ospovat playing the simple melody repeatedly until the song opens into its improvisational phase. What impresses here is the equality of force—the saxophone, drums and bass share equally in the sound mix. Every minute gesture of Ospovat is heard, and he is equally responsible for the melody. The Nebraska-born drummer, now living in Paris, is comfortable both in jazz and rock.
Both “One Last Thing” and “Switches” rely on the rhythm section’s energy to carry the weight as Shelton switches between alto saxophone and bass clarinet. His sound, as heard in his band Dragons 1976, can be powerfully free, but here he chooses to maintain a biting yet restrained approach. As Ospovat whirls and twirls his kit and Kotheimer drives a steady groove, Shelton perpetuates the core essence of these tracks.
One hears the flavor of Jimmy Garrison in the Akron-born bassist’s tone as Kotheimer leads Shelton through “External Frame,” while perhaps Ron Carter’s voice is summoned on the mirror-track “Internal Frame.” These bookend compositions are chamber improvisation pieces that complete the focused nature of this outing.
The melody and “arranged” improvisational writing of Shelton are impressive and quite delectable.