Shelton in Copenhagen

Aram Shelton & Håkon BerreBygning G (self-released, 2017)

bygning-gIt didn’t take long for Aram Shelton to get to work, musically, after moving to Copenhagen last fall. Bygning G came out in February, teaming up the former Bay Area saxophonist with Danish drummer Håkon Berre.

Berre is part of the Scandanavian creative music scene (here’s a sample), so he pairs nicely with Shelton on this album of mid-length improvisations, each of which explors a few different moods.

“Shelton Berre 1” opens in a relaxed vibe, building into a steady flow of jazzy ideas from Shelton, backed by a torrent from Berre. His drums aren’t too “up front” in the mix, which means he’s able to provide a current of energy without overwhelming the sound.

The track later gets into scratching and scraping — a more sparse sound but keeping the same propulsive pace.

“2” is a careful and quiet exploration that eventually blossoms, with Shelton delivering choppy statements against Berre’s clatter.

The opening of “3” includes some of my favorite playing on the album — active but casual, with Berre quickly going to the snare drum to add some heat.

 
The rest of “3” turns quiet and experimental, ending with air-through-the-horn sounds and a percussive rustle like gentle rainfall.

“4” opens tumultuously, with Berre showing a subtle touch even amid a raging din. After a long, thoughtful middle, the track ends with Shelton in a spiritual stream-of-consciousness state with Berre’s drums sounding ritualistic yet frantic.

In addition to being a good listen on its own, Bygning G has spurred me to explore Berre’s Barefoot Records label. In addition to improv, there’s some interesting jazz on there. Berre’s resume also includes the interesting punk/surf/prog band HÄRJA (aggressive music with a sense of humor and odd time signatures — you can have a listen on Soundcloud).

More of Shelton’s work is available on his Singlespeed Music label, and you can find Bygning G itself on Bandcamp.

Aram Shelton’s Last Bay Area Shows

Gold Age performs at the Woods Bar & Brewery (1701 Telegraph Ave., Oakland) on Friday, Oct. 28.

Gold AgeGold Age (Singlespeed, 2016)

goldageFor the past several years, the Bay Area has been graced with the presence of Aram Shelton, a saxophonist out of the Chicago scene who came here to study at Mills College. He’s moving to Copenhagen in November, so the past few weeks have seen him perform one last spate of shows, kind of a victory lap.

His musical work spans from free improvisation to nearly straight jazz, as a leader and as a sideman. His final shows here have toured different parts of that history, including Wiener Kids, the trio led by drummer Jordan Glenn (it was standing room only, reportedly) and Tonal Masher, Shelton’s experimental project based on saxophone feedback and computer-generated sound.

Gold Age is up next, with a show at the Woods Bar & Brewery this Friday. The band, whose debut album came out in July, is a free-jazz quartet with all four members contributing compositions and showing off plenty of improvisational prowess.

Their easy, liquid sound is colored by the cool hand of Mark Clifford on vibraphone. But it’s also a product of the expert work of Safa Shokrai on bass and Britt Ciampa on drums, holding that balance between a straight groove and outright anarchy.

A good example is “The Docks,” where the solos fly over a rhythm that’s bustling and full of sparkling details.

 
That track and Clifford’s “Levity Faction,” with its broken-swing melody, might be the album’s closest examples to conventional jazz. One of the more swerving departures is “The Hand That Might Mend Itself,” written by Ciampa, which breaks into full-on group improv that intensifies until it’s coalesced into the song’s final theme. It’s a nice display of creative energy honed toward a purpose.

“Show Jumping” is a nice chance to hear Shelton’s bass clarinet in a bouncy, lively setting. “Peach Orchard,” written by Shokrai, opens with sour-toned fluttered notes that slowly build a melodic line; it’s the jumping-off point for a lively midtempo vibraphone solo, followed by Shelton doing some of his most adventurous playing on the record.

You can sample the entire Gold Age album at Bandcamp. Here’s the itinerary for Shelton’s final three shows — until he comes back for a visit, of course.

October 28: Gold Age. Woods Brewery, Oakland. 9pm
October 30: Shelton/Ochs/Walton/Nordeson. The Back Room, Berkeley, 8pm.
November 1: Aram Shelton, Chris Brown, Jordan Glenn. Tom’s Place, Berkeley, 8pm.

Aram Shelton’s Resounder

Aram Shelton, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Frank RosalyResounder (Singlespeed, 2015)

Shelton, Lonberg-Holm, Rosaly -- Resounder (Singlespeed, 2015)Resounder is a bustling trio improv session with electronic enhancements added by saxophonist Aram Shelton after-the-fact. But the effect can be subtle. In fact, the players are so adept at wringing sounds from their instruments that you have to wonder if some of the exotic sounds are coming from the original session.

I say that because I first listened to Resounder blind, not knowing about Shelton’s post-processing. Once I knew it was there, my ears started playing tricks on me, particularly on “Bring Focus.” That buzzing tinge in the sax — is it acoustic or electronic? Did the sax just echo a few notes artificially, or was that my imagination? Now there, that was definitely a sax looped back into the mix … you get the idea.

“Fading Memory,” with Fred Lonberg-Holm‘s cello altered to spit ribbons of metal — that’s a more obvious example. Drummer Frank Rosaly gets his turns too, I think. One segment (which I now can’t find) has his toms and bass drum melted together into a low-flying tonal hum. Or was that just my imagination again?

Some of the electronics are more overt, which is good fun. Longberg-Holm gets plenty of electronics treatment to create dull roars and guitar-hero antics. There’s a passage later on “Bring Focus” that’s a long ramp to a crescendo, a nice slow burn of rumbling with a buzzy edge to the cello. And when it’s done, the band drops out, leaving behind a tinny sine wave — it’s a good dramatic moment.

Shelton had planned this to be a regular trio recording, just three good friends getting together in Chicago, and they turned in a crackling set. It’s only afterward that Shelton started considering enhancing the sounds, and it adds depth to what was already a densely packed session. Sometimes there’s some playback that literally adds another voice to the group. More often, though, it just sounds like more than three people, as Shelton’s processing creates new surfaces for the ear to cling to.

Listen to an excerpt of “Hope of Symbioses” on YouTube:


… Or to “Fading Memory” on Soundcloud:

Favorite Street: Steve Lacy Remembered

ROVAIt’s hard to believe Steve Lacy passed away 10 years ago this week. Doesn’t seem that long ago.

For many musicians in the Bay Area, Lacy was a contemporary, a peer, a mentor, a correspondent, and even a fan. They knew him and admired his work, and his passing at the age of 70 was like a color dropping from the spectrum.

So when the members of ROVA Saxophone Quartet arranged a commemorative concert, it also served as a 10-year wake and a community catharsis. Held at the Community Music Center in San Francisco, back on June 6, the show was a celebration of Lacy’s music, a chance to share memories, and a repainting of Favorite Street, ROVA’s 1984 album of Lacy compositions. (The CD is even back in print, part of a re-emergence of the Black Saint record label, although ROVA noted it might be hard to find in stores.)

Steve Lacy and Don Cherry: EvidenceI wanted to see the show not just for the music, but to learn a little more about Lacy and his influence.

Bruce Ackley did a lot of the talking for ROVA, explaining how Lacy’s influence had crept into their musical lives. ROVA members would attend many a Lacy show — and he would attend theirs in turn. (Lacy, a native New Yorker, spent most of his career in Paris and was a frequent Bay Area visitor. ROVA probably encountered him in both places.)

Ben Goldberg talked about the album Evidence, which he and ROVA both mentioned as a key influence. It’s got Steve Lacy and Don Cherry, but more importantly, it came out in 1961, when Lacy wasn’t as well known. His records weren’t numerous and were hard to come by. Evidence was a portal into a new sound world and a revelation, to hear the musicians tell it.

Ben Goldberg: The Door, The Hat, The Chair, The FactYears later, Goldberg received the news of Lacy’s death just days before a previously booked studio date. That album — which would become The Door, the Hat, the Chair, the Fact — was meant to be an homage, songs Goldberg assembled upon hearing Lacy had cancer. It turned into an emotional therapy session, as the whole community was rocked by Lacy’s passing. One track is a brief, classically styled song, “Cortege,” where the lyrics are the text of a fax Lacy sent Goldberg. The concluding line is a casual comment by Lacy that becomes poetic in its new context: “I am hardly here these days.”

Darren Johnston, Doug Stewart, Kjell Nordeson, Aram Shelton

The Concert

The first act was a variation of the quartet Cylinder, with bassist Doug Stewart sitting in for the traveling Lisa Mezzacappa. They started with a thundering take on “Trickles,” a fast-moving free-jazz rendition propelled by Kjell Nordesson’s drums and percussion. Aram Shelton (sax) and Darren Johnston (trumpet) took the lead voices, spelling out Lacy’s melodies — which have always struck me as simple and playful, but bent with a foreign accent of a country only Lacy’s mind could inhabit — and spiraling into solos inspired by the music. Johnston, in particular, seemed to be working the Monk-like strategy of using the melody to overtly build a solo (Monk being a fascination of Lacy’s, of course).

Michael Coleman and Ben Goldberg, ready for their close-upWhere the Cylinder group presented Lacy in a jazz context, the duo of Michael Coleman (piano) and Ben Goldberg (clarinet) showed off a more classical-oriented side, more akin to a recital-plus-improvisation. It turns out they were, in fact, playing Lacy’s etudes, a book of intentionally difficult exercises called Hocus Pocus. For much of the set, Coleman and Goldberg played the melodies in unison, the piano following the same fractally linear paths as the clarinet. Coleman expertly darted and dodged his way through, sometimes tripping up but always able to jump back in within a couple of sixteenth notes; it was all very impressive.

On a few occasions, Coleman had arranged chords to go along with the themes, adding unexpected and dramatic effects. “Herky Jerky” took on a deep ocean-waves color; it didn’t remind me of McCoy Tyner but it was that same monumental spirit. “Hustles,” dedicated to Niccolo Paganini, got a brief passage of insane circus music (at least, I’m pretty sure it was the Paganini piece and not the one dedicated to Karl Wallenda).

Bruce Ackley and Jon Raskin of ROVADuring ROVA’s set, I found myself suddenly paying attention to rhythms. This might have been because they opened with the funky bassline of “The Throes,” with Jon Raskin chugging away at the baritone sax. Several pieces also broke the group into a 2×2 format, with duets playing counterbalancing themes — again, tickling the ear’s sense of rhythm. While they played the songs from Favorite Street, some of them got new interpretations. (I know that not because I’m a brilliant Lacy-ologist, but because Steve Adams contributed some arrangements, and he wasn’t in ROVA in 1984.) It was a joyous set that ended with a new arrangement of “Cliches,” a track that’s not on the album.

It was a concert, a remembrance, and an education. I’m glad I was able to be there.

Aram Shelton Convenes the Octet

Aram SheltonOctet (self-released, 2014)

Aram Shelton: Octet. Source: Bandcamp; click to go thereIn 2002, jazzman Aram Shelton wrote “Octet,” a straight chamber piece for four horns, two cellos, and two basses. It’s a departure from his usual work with bands such as Ton Trio II.

He’ll be performing with a Bay Area version of the octet on Friday, May 16, at Le Qui Vive (1525 Webster St., Oakland), a show starting at 9:00 p.m. You can preview the music by listening to “Octet” and a companion piece, “Spring Time,” on Bandcamp. (You can also buy them there; just $5 for a 43-minute digital album.)

“Octet” is framed in minimalist tones, patient and bright. It builds on small, repeated motifs that gradually shift during the course of about 27 minutes. The steady cadence gets a break about midway, when it shifts into slower, looser playing — then it picks up the thread again, bouncing and bobbing its way along.

Minimalist pieces are meant to be a bit hypnotic (that’s always been my impression, anyway) and part of the magic is in zooming in on the details. In this case, you’ve got eight players to provide plenty of counterpoint, like lots of side conversations adding up to a whole. I’m reminded of a ROVA piece where many players were spread around a large room, and the audience was invited to sit in the middle. “Octet” would sound really good that way, with small sounds patiently prodding at you from all directions.

“Summer Time” carries a similar mood but eases up on the strict rhythm. The horns, in particular, play breathy jazz motifs that might even be improvised (or composed but with a more casual sense of rhythm applied). It’s an airy 17-minute piece that breezes past more quickly than you realize.

I’d recommend checking out the Octet at Le Qui Vive. It’s not an act that seems likely to be repeated much in the future. (And the opening act, featuring longtime jazzman Idris Ackamoor of The Pyramids, should be a treat, too.)

And if you’re more inclined to check out Shelton’s jazz work, Ton Trio II is playing at Duende (Oakland) on the following Friday, May 23.

Aram Shelton’s Art of the (Next) Trio

Aram Shelton‘s Ton Trio II plays Sat. Feb. 1, at Duende (Oakland), with the Cory Wright Outfit.

Ton Trio IIOn and On (Singlespeed, 2014)

Source: Singlespeed Music; click to go thereThis is the second version of Aram Shelton‘s sax/bass/drums unit, exploring Shelton’s compositions with a healthy respect for the jazz tradition and an appetite for the freedom of direction offered by free jazz.

Shelton founded Ton Trio shortly after coming to the Bay Area from Chicago. The second edition, with new rhythm section Scott Brown on bass and Alex Vittum on drums, was created late in 2012 and built itself into shape through regular gigs at The Layover for the first part of last year. Now they’ve put out their first album, on Shelton’s Singlespeed label.

The trio is very much a jazz exercise, presenting melodic heads followed by some robust jazz improvising. In tracks like “Turncoats,” there’s a touch of Ayler-style marching, something I thought I’d heard in the first Ton Trio album, The Way.

“Freshly Pressed” is one of the faster tracks (and the longest, at eight minutes), with Shelton digging hard in to post-bebop soloing but also adding small touches of swing or traditional melody. This is a track where Shelton goes particularly far outside the lines, egged on by Vittum, who also turns in a snappy drum solo.

I think my favorite track is the speedy “Orange Poppies,” which opens with a theme that harkens back to maybe early ’60s jazz, followed by a terrific, rolling jam where Shelton savors one cascading run of notes after another.

I’m writing this one up a bit late — the band’s show at Duende starts in just a few hours — but hopefully the band will get plenty of other chances to perform live and continue pushing this music forward.

Monday Jazz at The Layover

The Layover's logo. Click to go there.There’ll be creative jazz in downtown Oakland every Monday night for a while, starting tonight (Jan. 7).

The place is called The Layover, and it bills itself as a bohemian music/art bar. Local musicians, billing themselves as the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society, have organized the Monday jazz sessions.

The debut bill is the trio of Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Sheldon Brown (alto sax), and Vijay Anderson (drums); you can read more about them at Anderson’s web site.

For a bit of info about the Jan. 7 show, see Facebook.  The full Layover calendar is here; clicking any of the “Oakland Freedom Jazz” links reveals the full calendar:

    gba

  • Jan. 7 — GBA, as noted above
  • Jan. 14 — Darren Johnston Ensemble performing “Broken Shadows” (the Ornette Coleman album, I’d assume)
  • Jan. 21 — Lisa Mezzacappa, leading both a string band (violin, cello, guitar, etc.) and her Bait & Switch quartet
  • Jan. 28 — Aram Shelton‘s Ton Trio II. (See the comments, and for a bit about Ton Trio, see here.)

Whether this continues for more than a month, we’ll see. It would be nice, even though the first Monday of each month would conflict with the monthly jazz show at the Makeout Room in San Francisco.

The Layover is at 1517 Franklin St. between 15th and 17th, in downtown Oakland.