A longtime fixture of the fertile Chicago jazz scene, Aram Shelton's relocation to Oakland, California has not diminished the alto saxophonist's presence among his peers in the Windy City. Courtesy of a rigorous touring schedule, Shelton maintains memberships in numerous ensembles, including Jason Adasiewicz
's Rolldown, the collective ensemble Fast Citizens, and Arrive, his quartet with vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, bassist Jason Roebke
and drummer Tim Daisy
three of Chicago's finest improvisers.
Recorded in 2008 after a two week tour of the East coast, There Was...
is the quartet's third album, following Live at Elastic
(Single Speed Music, 2008) and their 2005 self-titled debut on 482 Music. Originally founded in 2001, the group's practiced rapport is manifest in fluid interchanges and seamless transitions that lend the intricate structures underlying Shelton's complex writing a casual sense of clarity. Although Shelton's tuneful post-bop readily evokes the adventurous 1960s-era Blue Note recordings of such luminaries as Eric Dolphy
, Andrew Hill
and Bobby Hutcherson
, Shelton and company transcend stylistic preconceptions with a modernistic spin on the tradition. A judicious use of melodic counterpoint, intervallic themes and shifting time signatures provide these compositions with an expansive dynamic range and bracing vitality unique to their time.
Shelton's nimble cadences reveal a pliant tone that veers from plangent to strident. His serpentine phrasing enhances the soulful ardor of lyrical motifs while instilling a commanding fluency to his more abstract excursions, which include bristling chromatic trills and vocalized ululations. From supple kaleidoscopic shadings to ringing metallic cascades, Adasiewicz's versatility has made him omnipresent in the Chicago jazz scene; his harmonic audacity makes him a perfect foil for Shelton's unfettered explorations. The rhythm section gracefully negotiates fractured rhythms and vacillating tempos with swinging aplomb, while making strong individual statements themselvessuch as Roebke's expansive rumination at the center of "Golden," or Daisy's rousing drum-line inspired coda on "Frosted."
The quartet's commitment to organic development and narrative detail is exemplified by the episodic "Lost" and the closer, "Golden," which slowly build from balladic musings to ardent finales. The former tune modulates from pointillist call-and-response to a bracing 6/8 vamp as Roebke and Daisy underscore the billowy sustain of Adasiewicz's double-mallet attack, providing a locomotive undercurrent for the leader's architecturally concise solo. Ascending to a fevered pitch, Shelton unleashes a compounding array of coiled variations, driven by Daisy's rigorous downbeats and Roebke's elastic ostinato, that culminates in a thrilling climax of rock-like intensity. "Golden" follows a similar arc, trading pneumatic precision for a nebulous maelstrom of expressionistic drama.
Alternating angular bop melodies and lilting swing motifs with languid noir blues impressionism and aleatoric introspection, Arrive navigates a multi-hued panorama of sound. Drawing inspiration from past masters while moving headlong into the future, There Was...
offers an adventurous yet accessible variation on the jazz tradition, demonstrating Shelton's subtly innovative take on historical antecedents.