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Dragons 1976: On Cortez

Rex  Butters By

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Some serious cool rises like dry ice steam off of On Cortez , the new release by Dragons 1976, comprised of alto player Aram Shelton, drummer Tim Daisy, and bassisst Jason Ajemian. Despite their associations with Ken Vandermark, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Parker, Triage, and Wrak, here they create moody, bluesy threads that unravel according to plan. Their less-is-more aesthetic serves them well as they patiently roam dark terrains.

“Canopy” cruises like a primered Buick. Shelton plays it minimal in an a capella moment. He takes a short easy walk with Ajemian, then Daisy solos with a slim sly riff. Shelton improvises as Ajemian and Daisy keep a tight time. A gathering storm builds and breaks on “Felt.” From swelling cymbals, Daisy accelerates to busy sticks. Ajemian’s enthusiasm sweeps Shelton into a Windy City run. But, order restored, Shelton and Ajemian circle each other on the way out.

They slow it back down with a bossa nova, “Upstairs Downstairs.” Ajemian plays the first solo, taking his time over Daisy’s crisp beat. Shelton wanders a while before finding his way back into the theme. "The Way It Is” features rolling brushwork from Daisy and reworkings of the melody from Shelton and Ajemian. The easy swing sets up Shelton’s modest exploration.

Getting into a swirling Coltrane mode, the trio delivers a beautiful opening on “Humboldt.” Daisy rolls the drums as Ajemian bows. Even with the tumult under him, Shelton strolls and trills. They explore a quieter interlude before adopting a more strident tempo to go out on. Saving the most contemplative piece for last, they finish with “Star Night,” a gentle thoughtful ballad with an after hours feel. The dissolve into an earthy duet between Daisy and Ajemian, reassembles with Shelton’s return.

Dragons 1976 play like a restrained version of the Lounge Lizards. On Cortez is an ideal soundtrack for staring out the window at 3am.


Track Listing: Canopy; Felt; Upstairs Downstairs; Heater; The Way it Is; Humboldt; Star Night.

Personnel: Aram Shelton, alto sax; Jason Ajemian, bass; Tim Daisy, drums.

Title: On Cortez | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Locust Music

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