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
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.
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.
Alto saxophonist Aram Shelton doesn’t hail from Chicago, but he spent his formative years in the city of broad shoulders and hard-blowing horn players, honing an aesthetic steeped in the visceral hurly burly of free jazz.
Since moving to the Bay Area in 2005 to study at Mills College, he’s become an essential part of the region’s left-of-center improvisational scene while also maintaining his Chi-town ties. Shelton has launched several Bay Area-based bands, such as the raucous sextet Marches – which extrapolates on the music of Sun Ra, Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler – and These Are Our Hours, a quintet showcasing a bevy of highly promising young players. But he’s getting his first major West Coast exposure with a powerhouse quartet featuring Chicago compatriots Keefe Jackson on tenor sax, bassist Anton Hatwich and drummer Tim Daisy.
“It’s strange that I’m breaking out with this Chicago group,” Shelton says, “but this quartet is the one that’s closest to more traditional jazz music, with a lot of in-time swinging and playing melodies and structures.”
Following two Saturday afternoon sets at the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Aram Shelton Quartet concludes a high-profile California tour Saturday night at the Red Poppy Art House. Shelton also performs with guitarist Nathan Clevenger’s sextet Sunday at Oakland’s Freelove Music School and Sept. 30 at Legion of Honor with the Oakland Active Orchestra, a creatively charged 14-member collective that appears regularly at the Uptown Nightclub in Oakland.
With his thick, sinewy tone, Shelton, 36, often makes the alto sax sound like its larger sibling. On the quartet’s debut album “Everything for Somebody,” he and Jackson bob, weave and dance around Daisy’s mercurial rhythmic churn. No one is likely to mistake the grooves for dance music, but the quartet retains the ecstatic, call-to-assembly urgency found in its primary sources – Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy. “I listen to them all the time,” Shelton says. “Their music has this beauty and energy that comes out of the soloists playing really simple. Well, not simple as much as honest. That’s what really inspires me.”
Raised on a small ranch in southeast Florida, Shelton spent his teenage years immersed in the Western classical tradition. Just as he was finishing a music degree at the University of Florida he experienced an epiphany at a performance by Sam Rivers’ extraordinary multi-instrumental trio. Settling in Chicago in 1999, he quickly threw himself into the thick of the city’s roiling creative music scene, collaborating with leading players in a series of singular ensembles. He’s done much the same thing in the Bay Area.
“Aram is so prolific and such an original voice, he’s really a beacon for what’s possible out here,” says bassist Lisa Mezzacappa, who opens the Red Poppy show with ROVA saxophonist Steve Adams. “Besides the sheer energy and work he puts into making things happen, it’s been great that he’s kept his relationships with Chicago. We get to interact with those players and that cross pollination helps our scene.”
by Andy Gilbert
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!