On and On at All About Jazz

Oakland, CA, based jazz and improvisation protagonist, alto saxophonist Aram Shelton could hold his own with most anyone in a cutting-contest. But there’s more than a whole lot of technical acumen taking place with Ton Trio II. One of the principle selling points so to speak, is how the musicians impeccably integrate the modern jazz vernacular with invocative avant-garde campaigns, heaving with impact and intensifying discourses.

The trio’s spry and spunky demeanor is led by Shelton’s burly tone and fluent phrasings amid a search and conquer manifesto. On “Orange Poppies,” the band whirls through—with the greatest of ease—a complex bop-drenched time signature as Shelton ignites a firestorm. Here, bassist Scott Brown primarily operates within the upper-registers to incite a sense of urgency, where the band lashes out with sizzling choruses, sparked by Shelton’s amazingly fast flurries and gruff accents. He circumnavigates many of the rhythmic components executed by drummer Alex Vittum’s crackling pulses and polyrhythmic attack, along with solos that convey poetic qualities.

The band’s concentrated focus is keenly disassembled in certain movements as they loosen the vibe with free-form escapades of various hues and cadences. But the quasi, jazz-waltz oeuvre “Let’s All Go,” is a solid forum for Shelton to deliver John Coltrane-like chromatics via searching notes during an extended bridge as he restates and darts around the main theme, anchored by the rhythm section’s blustery grooves. However, Vittum explodes with a rough and tumble solo, gushing with regimented maneuvers; fancy footwork on the bass drum, and dizzying geometrical patterns as the band closes by punching out a snaky unison chorus. Otherwise, Shelton communicates isolation and reflection on the ballad “Findings,” ramped up by a mid- tempo jaunt, dyed with a harrowing storyline. Hence, the musicians’ self-perpetuating cycles of enthusiastic interplay engulfs the dynamically moving parts. Indeed, a blockbuster production.

by Glen Astarita, originally published at All About Jazz.

On and On at the Chicago Reader

Because reedist Aram Shelton first made his name during his years in Chicago and continues to work in numerous ensembles featuring strong local players, that’s the context in which he tends to get covered by the Reader. But he moved to Oakland, California, in 2005 and he’s been superactive in the Bay Area since then, so even we don’t hear about those activities so much. Shelton has just released On and On (Singlespeed Music) with the second iteration of his long-running group Ton Trio. The album was made by a new lineup featuring bassist Scott Brown and drummer Alex Vittum. I just got my copy of the album and I haven’t had enough time to really immerse myself in the sounds, but on first blush it’s another winner. Today’s 12 O’Clock Track is a superbuoyant, hard-swinging gem called “Orange Poppies,” where the rhythm section provides agile, swift support for Shelton’s tart alto saxophone, which hurtles over the grooves without a misstep. At times there’s no missing the melodic brightness of Ornette Coleman, but Shelton has his own sound, flush with wild intervallic leaps, and flecked by sudden upper-register squeals and percussive honks. It’s a remarkable performance. Check it out after the jump.

Original post by Peter Margasak at the Chicago Reader.

Apples + Oranges at All About Jazz (#2)

Oakland, California based reedman Cory Wright (Anthony Braxton, Vinny Golia & Yusef Lateef delivers a manifold and juxtaposing ensemble date on Apples + Oranges. It doesn’t take too long to determine that the album poses a surfeit of diagonally opposed viewpoints. Other than the highly emphatic and synergistic group-centric output, Wright’s compositions hit the mark, and this is one of those very special endeavors that excites, entertains and sustains interest.

Wright’s involvement with visionary composer and improviser, Anthony Braxton seems to have assimilated into some of these pieces. However, the band’s buoyant mode of operation is coupled with a feisty disposition. They execute highly charged free- bop, featuring whirling sax choruses by Wright and Evan Francis while flirting with the chamber-jazz element during “Low Impact Critter,” modeled on incongruously arranged metrics and spunky multipart dialogues amid several paradigm shifts and sprightly aerial assaults.

Wright leads the Outfit through bracing swing, bop, and ballad segments via shifting parameters that seamlessly flow and interconnect. Each piece contains massive doses of pop and sizzle. And “Whaticism,” is a song-form designed with unorthodox extended note opuses that burst out of nowhere, reinforced by Lisa Mezzacappa’s earthen-toned bass notes, leading to a pre-planned breakdown. However, the “The Sea and Space” contains a sleek luster due to Francis’ complex flute phrasings in unison with Wright, and trombonist Rob Ewing’s burly solo. Here, the ensemble yields a controlled semblance of well-coordinated abstractions.

The musicians dish out minimalism and microtonal, free- form dialogues while also reverse-engineering various activities. Other regions of sound are constructed on pumping grooves and, changeable motifs that are heavily outlined upon variable cadences. Consequently, “St. Bruno’s Purview” is a mid-tempo burner atop a quasi, New Orleans 2nd line March pattern, hued with animated horn passages. Without further ado, Apples + Oranges warrants serious consideration for a spot in many year-end top-10 lists.

Original post by Glenn Astarita at All About Jazz.

Apples + Oranges at Memory Select

Playful twists on conventional jazz pepper Apples + Oranges, the new album from Bay Area sax/clarinet player Cory Wright and his quintet of locals.
It’s a free-jazz album at heart, with lots of room for improvisation and plenty of unconventional structure in the songs. But it all stems from a sunny disposition that colors the modern bebop composing, producing a great session overall.

“Freddie Awaits the Sleepers” bursts forth to start the album with tangly horns and bright, jumping bass from Lisa Mezzacappa. Jordan Glenn propels the song from the drum kit, continually percolating behind the solos, which use different tactics to weave their way into the songs. After a solid trombone solo by Rob Ewing, Wright’s tenor sax puts up easy runs of notes contrasted against the driving rhythm. Evan Francis’ alto then plays off the fury of Glenn’s drums by working in high, whining registers, a different type of ear-pleasing contrast. (I think I’ve got the order of the solos right.)

“Whaticism” is a perky and upright bit of swinging whimsy, opening with a jaunty sound. The horns act as the chord instrument, backing up each solo with little written-out phrases or, in the case of the bass solo, a repeated joint squeal.  “Low Impact Critter” takes a less jazzy approach, with each instrument pecking sparsely in rapid-fire tradeoffs to create the skeleton of a swing. Later, it’s got flute, clarinet, and trombone mixing it up for a drumless improvisation that’s a lot of fun. “The Sea and Space” is slow but bright, Wright’s clarinet proudly fluttering over a minor-key composition with a catchy bass rhythm and calm lines from the horns. It ends with a hard-driven groove backing Ewing’s trombone solo. Everything wraps up with “St. Bruno’s Purview,” a showy tune with hints of old-timey melody. It features some throaty, burbly clarinet moments — a complement to two other “St. Bruno’s”-titled tracks that serve as short interludes.

The most drastic mood shift comes with the 11-minute “Eyedrop,” an exercise in sparse improvisation. Its opening themes are small modern-classical scribbles, spaced apart by quiet, crawling improv segments, one of which eventually takes over to form a slowly jazz-oriented improvising over small, composed outlines. It’s gutsy to take up so much of the album with an experimental piece, but it’s also a way to show off another side of the high-caliber band assembled here. Mezzacappa’s bass solo, over slowly cascading horn notes, is a nice lead-in to the song’s final theme. “Eyedrop” might seem like a speed bump to some listeners who tune in more easily to the overly jazzy tracks, like an orange among the apples, but I’m happy to take them all in together.

Originally published at Memory Select.

Apples + Oranges at All About Jazz

In jazz, there are composers and there are soloists and, as they say, “never the twain shall meet.” Okay, not impossible, but it is rare in modern jazz for a musician to be both an outstanding soloist and a talented arranger. Listening to Apples + Oranges by West Coast saxophonist Cory Wright, the challenge is to determine which of the two talents makes this a thriving and effective recording.

But then again, requiring one to choose will result in a false choice. I like both chocolate and peanut butter, and I love them together.

The disc opens with “Freddie Awaits The Sleepers,” a piece that wouldn’t be out of place in the 1959 repertoire of Ornette Coleman. That is, if Ornette would have employed a trombonist. Rob Ewing’s bone punches through the evanescent bebop passages while Evan Francis’ alto saxophone shakes skittering notes. Wright’s composition masquerades as unconfined, but it is actually a tightly woven composition. And so are the other seven pieces he penned here. “Whaticism” plays with time, bassist Lisa Mezzacappa soloing, then guiding the quintet through some challenging parts. The music alternately tangles complex arrangements with accommodating solos. Wright’s saxophone is a resonant full-bodied sound that fits hand in glove with altoist Evan Francis. He plays both tenor saxophone and Bb clarinet here, delivering a brawny sound. One that has been featured in the bands of Anthony Braxton, Adam Rudolph, Vinnie Golia, and Yusef Lateef.

The beauty of this session is the range of the music. Wright’s music can encompass the ceremonial sounds of the “St. Bruno’s” series, a semi-classical chamber jazz composition “Eyedrop,” and “Low Impact Critter,” a sort of “Carl Stalling” cartoon music tribute score. Apples + Oranges turns the wow factor to maximum.

by Mark Corroto. Originally posted at All About Jazz

New You in the IARJC

Oakland, California based Arts & Sciences is a quartet with two saxophonists, Jacob Zimmerman on alto and Matt Nelson on tenor, electric keyboardist and composer Michael Coleman, and drummer Jordan Glenn. Their CD New You, issued on Aram Shelton’s Singlespeed Music imprint, is a blast of freewheeling West Coast invention with an eclectic batch of tunes and plenty of electronic textures. People Really Like Me opens the proceedings with sludgy keyboards and slowly growling saxophones over a variety of clanks and cymbal splashes. When a beat asserts itself about two minutes in, the saxes take up a bluesy moaning theme in unison. The track rolls on until it fades in a six note circular theme. The band roars back with Poodle, a fast and hard riff, with pockets of improvisation that blows by in just over a minute. Baby Boner has a perky theme, but the section for improvising starts out slow and murky before exploding into full bore crashing funk with wailing saxes, pounding drums, and pummeled keyboards. Eventually it resolves into a repeated staccato lick that slowly fades out. The brief Step Child is a sweet melody with a few little hiccups, and it’s over before you know it. The boldly aggressive opening of Those Lepers is briefly supplanted by a spy movie soundtrack theme with moaning saxes before they play the opening riffs again to end the piece. An odd contrast, but played with a bravado combination of total conviction and tongue slightly in cheek. Seram and Shunting are two flavors of ferocious jazz rock, one swirling and intense, the other more atomized with invigorated saxophone dueling. The group expands to an octet on Scientology, with shimmering cymbals and electronic washes to start and a dramatic and stately them lovingly arranged for the horns that reminds me vaguely of the music of Abdullah Ibrahim. Jazz/Shadow concludes the disc with a good time vamp, tongues firmly in cheek this time as they roll on out. Arts & Sciences makes adventuresome music, characterized by Coleman’s gift for melodic invention and the group’s swampy sound. Well worth a listen.

By Stuart Kremsky. Originally published in the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors Journal. Vol. 46, NO. 2,  June, 2013.

Everything for Somebody at the Chicago Reader

Reedist Aram Shelton was an important presence in the Chicago jazz and improvised-music scene from the late 90s until he moved to Oakland in 2005, and it’s been two years since he’s come back to visit—far and away the longest stretch he’s been away. By now he’s deeply immersed in the music community on the west coast, so it’s nice to see him renewing his Chicago ties. He’s in town to play with the long-running Fast Citizens at this weekend’s Chicago Jazz Festival, and while here he’ll belatedly celebrate last year’s Everything for Somebody (Singlespeed Music), the second album by his excellent Chicago quartet; it features two members of the larger band, reedist Keefe Jackson and bassist Anton Hatwich, as well as drummer Tim Daisy. The title track retains the elegant Ornette Coleman vibe that’s long distinguished Shelton’s writing, and several tunes, including jaunty album opener “Anticipation,” with its catchy folk-dance melody and cantering groove, have themes that inspire spirited improvisation from the front line. Over the years Shelton and Jackson have developed a close rapport, and I can’t wait to hear it in person again. For tonight’s second set, Shelton’s quartet will be joined by three more of his bandmates in Fast Citizens—cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, cornetist Josh Berman, and drummer Frank Rosaly. —Peter Margasak

Original post at the Chicago Reader.

Everything for Somebody at New York City Jazz Record

Everything For Somebody is the latest quartet disc from ex-Chicago alto saxophonist/clarinetist Aram Shelton, now residing in the Bay Area. He’s joined by Daisy, tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson and bassist Anton Hatwich on a program of six original compositions. Shelton is one of those musicians for whom being an ‘acolyte’ is a respectful position; this writer hasn’t heard too many musicians, especially of a younger generation, take on the compositional tack and improvisational daring of Roscoe Mitchell. Shelton does that but he runs with it and has created a highly personal approach rooted in well-paced repetition and their abstracted (but highly melodic) outgrowths. Jackson’s more burred and quixotic phrasing is a fascinating foil, taking the same germs and contorting them into equally personal problem/solution dynamics. At heart – and not least due to the voluminous, dry activity of Daisy’s kit and the full tone and precise timing of Hatwich – this is swinging and accessible music, far from any rote exercise. Shelton and company balance formal rigor with bright and unruly nowness and that is something their esteemed forbears would appreciate. – Clifford Allen

Originally published in the New York City Jazz Record.

Everything for Somebody at Free Jazz Alchemist

I remember Aram Shelton’s two concerts in Krakow, first one with a Dragon 1976 trio, it was a release tour for the band’s cd on polish Multikulti label and they have played with the polish “The Light” group which was the adience’s introduction to Waclaw Zimpel. I remember that afterwards one of my very firsts texts was published by the Diapazon portal. The second performance I’ve seen was the Ton Trio, an evening of beatifull music. Aram Shelton made a lasting impression with his playing but even more so with the melodic compositions he presented. And he’s still got a knack for the good melody.

“Anticipation” might very well be one of the best introductory pieces in a long time. It swings joyfully, the melody dances lightly on the bass groove notes and smiles warmly through its harmony. It’s spirited, it invites you in and promises more, it engages the listener from the very first notes.
The Tim Daisy – Anton Hatwitch sections swings with a swag while the saxophones engage in their conversations. And the tenor alto matchup works quite brilliantly. The stereo realisation lets you savour the differences in the tone and approach to the solo narrations as well as the way the registers complete themselves in the harmony statements.
“Joints and Tendons” presents a more experimental approach to a composition. Notes are spare and seem disconnected, the long pauses are slowly shortened, and the elements presented before combine toward a melodic coda. “Barely Talking” has more dynamic edge and showcases the rhythm section again, heavy bass and busy drumming with the light hits on the plate just dancing around all the notes.
“Deadfall” opens with an alto interlude, light tone swirls through some harmonic cadenzas only to bring us toward an enchanting lyrical melody of the piece where the melody is passed between the instruments in harmonic sqeuence. The alto leaves the stage and the tenor takes for a lyrical solo that hints on darkness. As the alto comes back, the quartet creates possibly the most intense passage of the album, dark, menacing and intense, without really having to hit the notes high or loud. They release the crescendo and fall back again to the enchanting piece’s harmony.
“Fleeting” ends the cd as it started, joyfull, swinging with a panache. The bass walks happily, the drums syncopate nonchalantly and the alto (first solo) and tenor (second solo) ride the groove. The concise and hip drum solo is there to make the final point.

This cd in many ways brings back the history of jazz music. And it revives it. And it pushes to the tradition forward in a brilliant way.
For its great melodies, for its swing and swagger, for the brilliant solos it deserves as much attention as any “out there” avant music. Could provide a point of mutual understanding between “mainstream” and “free” die-hard fans. And let us hope it doesn’t get lost in the midst of this “sacred war”. Would be a shame as it is absolutelly fantastic portion of Jazz.

Originally published at

ASQ at Monterey Jazz Fest

It’s all funk and soul on the outdoor stages this afternoon, but here in the close darkness of the Coffee House Gallery the atmosphere is quite different. While other bands shimmy and slam, saxophonist Aram Shelton is leading his postmodern Oakland/Chicago ensemble through a cerebral obstacle course.

“Rise and Set” is typically knotty. Shelton and co-conspirator Keefe Jackson slip in and out of unison on alto and tenor sax, playing against clockwork complications from drummer Tim Daisy. A vigorous, oblique solo from Jackson falls away as the band slides abruptly into a more relaxed pace, then Anton Hatwich gets the room to himself for a studious bass solo.

Shelton switches to clarinet for “An Interrupted Stroll,” spinning and bouncing as Daisy reinvents his rhythm. The drummer shifts constantly between sticks and brushes, his arms jerking every which way. Jackson’s sound is croaking here, gritty and almost sneering on the next number (“Fleeting”), as Shelton rolls and hitches his own lines with abandon.

The band opens it way up for “Joints and Tendons,” a possible double-entendre title that prompts Jackson to quip, “Aram was a completely different guy before he moved to California.” The tune itself is spacious and abstract, with skittery drums and melancholy horns, showing both the avant-garde influences of this group and the unique dynamic these musicians create by bridging two very different jazz scenes.

Originally published at Jazz Observer