Incline at All About Jazz

The avant-garde schema is sort of an open-world platform where almost anything goes. But Incline is an album that sheds a radiant light on the sax-drums duo format, featuring an inordinate degree of textural components and a seamless integration of two like-minded artists, performing on similar planes. Here, Swedish drummer Kjell Nordeson and American alto saxophonist Aram Shelton opt for a reclusive setting, tucked away in the mountains at a cabin in Lake Tahoe, NV. Perhaps all or most distractions were eliminated during the recording process, resulting in a comprehensive program, as depth, space, and power attain a synchronous plane.

The music offers a semi-structured outlook amid various detours via the duo’s focused game-plan. Shelton’s gritty sax lines often parallel Nordeson’s polyrhythmic patterns, asymmetrical pulses, and colorific use of cymbals. Moreover, the drummer tunes his kit within a range that mirrors Shelton’s tonaities, which is a factor that projects a tightly aligned forum.

Nordeson and Shelton generate a myriad of pulsating grooves to complement various breakouts. However, the oscillating dynamic rides atop a buoyant ebb and flow. For example, on “Village,” Shelton closes out with an abstract tribal groove, based on a screeching and spiraling plaintive cry. Yet they intersperse minimalist type passages throughout the session, enhanced by Nordeson’s ethereal cymbals treatments, yielding an uncanny sense of lyricism.

“Grade” is a piece centered on free-form sound-shaping and is fragmented by the duo’s unhurried line of attack, engineered on cavernous sounds, flirtatious dialogues, counterpoint and jaunty underpinnings. They also manage to build contrasting layers to inject a tiered perspective into the big picture partly due to Shelton’s subtle and fractured phrasings. Moving forward, the musicians’ micro-themes and gradual tension building episodes are countered by tumultuous rhythmic passages, and a nonconforming mode of operations. Thus, many of these aspects are evident on “Soles,” where a sense of urgency forecasts imagery of a life or death situation.

Shelton and Nordeson run on all cylinders but temper the currents to extract worldly views by purveying numerous concepts and nuances throughout the moving parts. This largely kinetic session is not restricted to borders or hardcoded applications. And it’s much more than the customary free-jazz crash and burn stylizations that seems to be the customary mode of discourse these days. Simply stated, there’s a whole lot going on under the hood.

Originally published at All About Jazz

New You at East Bay Express

Michael Coleman’s more famous indie rock trio, Beep!, provides a helpful primer and reference point for anyone trying to understand this one. In many ways, Arts & Sciences falls in the same aesthetic vein, albeit with jazzier instrumentation (woodwinds, percussion, keys instead of piano-bass-drums), and a freer format — he characterizes the outfit as modern jazz, without any rock pretensions. Monstrously talented tenor saxophonist Matt Nelson and altoist Jacob Zimmerman handle most of the heads, which are in most cases more challenging, and more harmonically abstract, than any of Coleman’s prior releases. Even a purposefully quirky tune like “Those Lepers,” which starts off brash but gets all woozy and viscous in the middle, demands several listens before you can digest it.

With all that said, Coleman’s dorky sense of humor is fully intact. The first tune on this album, a protracted, slow lead-in that opens on a two-minute crescendo (effected via Nelson’s guttural horn growl and Jordan Glenn’s pitter-patter percussion), bears the charmingly sheepish title “People Really Like Me” (which is hard to write without adding an emoticon at the end). Among the other tracks are “Baby Boner” — a groany but incongruously gorgeous ballad about, well, a boner, apparently — and the more richly orchestrated “Scientology,” which features four additional musicians: bass clarinetist Aram Shelton, trumpeter Theo Padouvas, trombonist Rob Ewing, and guitarist Andrew Conklin. All jokes aside, it’s pretty hard stuff, altogether more complicated and a little less accessible than Beep! But the rewards are commensurate.

Original post at East Bay Express

Incline at JazzWrap

Aram Shelton has been one of my favourite discoveries over the last few years. There’s a forcefulness and deep intuitiveness to his performances that has always amazed me.

Kejell Nordeson is a terrific and inventive drummer whom I have followed since his days with Swedish outfit Aaly Trio (due to their recordings with Ken Vandermark).

It’s no really surprise that these two creative forces finally found each other with their group Cylinder. The two minds are on a very distinct and similar wavelength.

While Cylinder is an improv masterclass, the duo’s project, Incline (Singlespeed Music) is more a free-thinking sprawling yet very honed study of personal interplay. “Village” is an incredible opening track. A torrent of sound on par with David S. Ware/Andrew Cyrille. The piece builds rapidly as the two scream back and forth with notes that peel the skin from your eardrum. Fun, eh?!?

“Orbit” is more a solo outing for Nordeson as he picks, clangs, taps and pounds notes from the ether. Beautiful and investigating, it all flows nicely into “Test”, a melodic piece that is percussive and emotional. Led by heavy, deep undertones from Shelton and Nordeson create a blossoming atmosphere that fills the space yet is completely free of structure.

“Rig” sees Shelton in the solo role. Here stretching and constructing notes paint a slow moving Jackson Pollack-esque picture. The piece is short but moves nicely into “Soles,” a mountain of a piece that rips the top off of everything. Shelton and Nordeson seems to be in a completely higher plane. The piece gets louder and louder with the two seemingly melding into one until a gentle all-halt.

Incline is an album of multi-layered complexity. The unity between the Nordeson and Shelton is very apparent through each note. This is the duo that was long in the making but we are better off for it. Incline is another keen masterpiece in the history of both Aram Shelton and Kjell Nordeson.

Incline at DMG Newsletter

“There is something special going on here. It seems obvious to me that this duo have been playing together for a while since their is an assured connection between what they are playing. Fractured phrases, jumpy yet tight, rhythmically and melodically the duo are often playing similar patterns together as one. Like a spastic dance, both parties jump through hoops of fire time and again, balancing on the head of a pin. The first time I played this in the store, I was distracted by buisness and couldn’t quite hear the connection. Now, it makes perfect sense. Each of the nine pieces explores a different mood or series of texture or strategies. Mr. Nordeson seems to focus on a certain area of his drum set or a certain evolving pattern, establishing the odd groove or pulse or something close enough to follow. Mr. Shelton does something similar, twisting his sax sounds into odd shapes and then slowly manipulating them until they become something else. Over the past few years instrumental duos have become more popular and musicians continue to explore a wide variety of combinations. This particular duo, Nordeson Shelton, is one of the best ones I’ve heard. Nothing here is overdone or overwhelming. It all fits just right.” – Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

Original post at DMG Newsletter

Ton Trio at Memory Select

Given the number of great musicians the Bay Area has lost to other cities, it’s nice when someone from Chicago or New York decides to come here. Oboeist Kyle Bruckmann has been here for a while, participating actively in the sfSound modern-classical collective. And now we get Aram Shelton.
Like any creative musician, Shelton has been involved in a wide range of projects. I’ve been impressed with the trio Dragons 1976, which plays improvised jazz with hints of soul-jazz, at least to my ear, and a dryly crisp sound that I really enjoy. He’s gone into more introspective, electronics-laden territory with the duo Son of Gunnar, Ton of Shel.
The Bay Area-based Ton Trio delivers a good, direct slice of free jazz, with thoughtful composing and terrific, energetic interplay. There’s a tint of Albert Ayler, too, especially in the title track, “The Way,” with that faux marching band proudness. Ayler seems to also be there, less directly, in “One Last Thing” and “Old Thoughts.” Maybe it’s the breed of melodicism Shelton favors. Maybe I’m just kidding myself.
Getting deeper into those last two tracks: “One Last Thing” is a fine slice of free jazz, coming out calmly with an uplifting melody, then bubbling into form. Sam Ospovat hammers away on drums while Shelton and bassist Kurt Kotheimer take flight. Great stuff, with an energetic post-swing to it. “Old Thoughts” really gets into it, some hard-driving free-jazz work with a terrific drum solo.
The slow songs tend to get short shrift when I’m reviewing jazz, but “Switches” really caught my ear. It opens up with a pattern that’s like gradual breathing, a slow awakening — but Ospovat’s drumming is just going nuts behind it, lots of little cymbal clashings that tell you there’s more energy building than you think. And while the piece stays rather laid-back, it does get into some gnarly bass clarinet work.

Original posted at Memory Select.

Ton Trio at Paris Transatlantic

Tradition can be a perilous thing, especially when one is compelled to both clearly follow one’s forebears and express oneself in a very personal manner. Alto saxophonist and clarinetist Aram Shelton is a young improvising composer who has called the Bay Area home for the last several years, though he came up in Chicago’s jazz hotbed alongside cornetist Josh Berman, drummer Frank Rosaly, and tenorman Keefe Jackson. The Way finds Shelton in the company of bassist Kurt Kotheimer and drummer Sam Ospovat on six originals. In the liner notes to last year’s self-titled Dragons 1976 disc, Shelton professed a kinship to Ornette, Ayler, and Shepp – and it is a testament to the reedman’s conviction in his own work to acknowledge his influences and yet (judging from recorded evidence) forge a distinct path.
Opening the set is the title track, a warm singsong melody that recalls mid-1960s Ornette as well as some of Steve Lacy’s nursery-rhyme tunes. It’s here that the similarities to 1965 end, though – Shelton’s alto, while hitting tartly rounded contours, moves into areas of severe repetition and abstraction, sort of like a self-contained albeit folksy “Nonaah.” Ospovat is bullish and thrashing, mining Shelton’s theme for explosive rhythmic nuggets. The bassist’s supple pizzicato underpins it all, his gauzy melodic shading offering just enough resolution to keep the triangle equilateral. “One Last Thing” has an incredibly infectious roiling groove, at slight odds with Shelton’s concentrated behind-the-beat cells. His solo elongates and circles back in on itself, Ospovat and Kotheimer hacking away at overlaid tempi yet never losing a profound sense of swing. “Switches” is one of two pieces featuring Shelton’s bass clarinet, an instrument he plays with precision and delicacy. Beginning with a husky duet of low reed and plucked bass, the pair move quickly into a stuttering theme before Shelton’s solo emerges, filled with wry, teasing snatches of phrase. The Way is an excellently-paced set, its quizzical themes dispatched quickly and engagingly – the disc clocks in at just under forty minutes. Shelton, Kotheimer and Ospovat comprise a trio of utmost conviction.

Original post at Paris Transatlantic

Ton Trio at All About Jazz

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.

Original post at All About Jazz