Aram Shelton: Arrive (2005)
With obvious reference points to Jackie Mclean's '60s work with Bobby Hutcherson, Aram Shelton's Arrive works hard to update the alto saxophone/vibraphone front line format with varied, but generally engaging results. Hailing from Chicago since his move there in 1999, Shelton possesses a mathematically angular yet fluid tone reminiscent of both Anthony Braxton and McLean. As part of the Document Chicago series, Arrive relies on the off-kilter and odd-meter sounds available to this instrument combination, often utilizing configurations that seem like more of an experiment in sound and structure inline with modern chamber music than jazz or free improvisation in many respects. What marks the album as different form other experiments in sound, though, is that you find yourself coming back to Arrive and its unfolding multifaceted sound.
Along with Shelton here are Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone, Jason Roebke on acoustic bass, and Tim Daisy on drums, and with such a talented roster it is hard not to expect outstanding performances from everyone involved. However, the album is not top-shelf throughout. Portions sag in a meandering mode that seems like a search gone awry, but conversely, there are also many moments where you may find yourself enraptured by that very same search.
Throughout the 45-minute album, the lead voices are frequently separated from the rest of the group and perform in open or minimally backed space. Though sometimes they seem to restrict individuals from really following their instincts, the compositions also allow them to take flight, opening up for more instantaneous composition. No matter the format, however, the pervasive mood is often solemn, a feeling that is almost entirely created by Adasiewicz's single-note, abstract style on vibraphone, setting the stage for his fellow musicians and especially Shelton's midrange melodies.
There are many highlights, but of particular note are ballads such as "Johann & Leo. Here Adasiewicz is once again in space, but rather than constantly playing tones that seem at odds with his surroundings or in music in general, he gently opens up a probing sound that eventually finds in him in tandem with Shelton, working together and responding to one another in a more understated mode. Even in the midsection of the song, where things become looser and wander in separate directions with nothing tethering them, they find their way back to one another and keep the listener interested as well.
Arrive, an album with potential, often comes off more as an exercise in composition worked out in the moment than a finalized document of a group of musicians and material. Without a doubt, bigger and better things shall come from these individuals. But Arrive is still an interesting and sometimes very engaging album of originals from these musical troubadours that does reveal more with each return trip.
Track Listing: On Time; All Dressed Up; Because of You; The Return; Johann & Leo.
Personnel: Aram Shelton: alto saxophone; Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone; Jason Roebke: bass; Tim Daisy: drums.