Larry Ochs and Aram Shelton

Larry Ochs & Aram Shelton QuartetContinental Drift (Clean Feed, 2020)

Aram Shelton was a fixture on the Bay Area scene before moving overseas, first to Copenhagen and more recently to Budapest. He teams up with ROVA stalwart Larry Ochs on Continental Drift, a free-jazz session where we get to listen in on distant friends enjoying one another’s company. The album has a bright, flowing energy, aided by drummer Kjell Nordeson, another familiar face on the local scene, and two bassists — Mark Dresser or Scott Walton — who rounded out the quartet during the two separate recording sessions, five years apart, that make up the album.

Ochs and Shelton alternate composing duties track-by-track, emphasizing their contrasting styles — Ochs tending toward rougher textures and abstract territory, Shelton often starting closer to traditional jazz forms but bending them to his taste. Ochs’ “Slat” delves into more abstract territory and a freer improvisation — some terrific sparring here between the two horns — whereas Shelton’s “Switch” shows off his trademark blend of modern composing and aggressively swingy rhythm.

Shelton puts a sweet composure into “Anita.” But even that track goes off the melodic rails after a while; it’s far from sappy. Ochs shows off his snappy sense of rhythm on the outright catchy “Strand,” which starts innocuously but builds into a furious group jam that eventually stops on a dime, a nice dramatic moment.

Shelton and Ochs mix well and it’s often hard to tell who has played or even composed which pieces. (For me, anyway. My ear for different musical styles is still a work in progress.) They combine for a tremendous, hard-digging double solo during “The Others Dream,” Ochs’ 19-minute closer. That one feels epic, opening with somber drumming and Ochs’ ecstatic sopranino solo, then later getting into a hard-driven segment that also feels wide open, a broad landscape unrolling.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve met most of these players in person, but the whole set just feels friendly, with an optimistic outlook. Composition-led free jazz is alive and well, and it’s a soothing balm against stressful times. Shelton and Ochs execute well on Continental Drift, but more importantly, it feels like everyone is having fun. That kind of thing comes across on a record.

2 thoughts on “Larry Ochs and Aram Shelton

  1. This is probably more about me than about Larry but I did a free show (free jazz?) with larry and dave rempis at palo alto art center – free because they don’t let you ticket events. I liked it, but people walked out. Maybe if I could have charged $10 those people would stay. I feel bad about a lady I met at The Old Pro at the Niners Saints broadcast and told her about the show, she came with her teenage boy then walked out. They might have been expecting Kermit Ruffins.
    Never been to Budapest but my wife’s brother’s wife is from there. And I took a Rwandan refugee living in Belgium working in Switzerland to the Noname show at the Fox

  2. That’s interesting, about the free show. I suspect you’re right that people would have stayed if there had been a charge, because there would be fewer curiosity seekers. It’s a tough situation — you want to give people a chance to connect with the music, but then, a lot of them won’t give the music a chance.

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