It is easy to admire the audacity of Aram Shelton's quartet. Not that the reedman writes insolent and defiant music; but given the attention-grab improvisers are facing today, he is so very loyal to the melody. This group is quartet subset of his Fast Citizens sextet, minus trumpet and cello, here, pairing things down to tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson
, bassist Anton Hatwich and drummer Marc Riordan.
While melody plays a large part in his other projectslike Dragons 1976, Ton Trio, and Arrivethey are all predisposed to be open platforms for freedom and flights of energy. Here, the quartet sets about to curb outward flights with the improvisers maintaining a loyalty to the themes.
Shelton and Jackson are a comfortable pairing, especially when the mixture is clarinet and saxophone. Their negotiating of the compositions is uncluttered and without competition. "Rings," a locomotive piece, begins with the players stating the theme, before the chug-a chug-a of the pulse, driven by Hatwich and Riordan opens into the two front men trading off in the drivers seat, gaining speed until the track pulls itself into the station. Likewis,e the rhythms of "Dusk" pulse like a loose basketball, losing, and then gaining momentum, as it bounces away from each player. Riordan keeps all the balls in the air, working his snare drums and cymbals to maintain the energy as Shelton and Jackson dribble their lines of energy.
When the pair both take up the saxophone, as on "Relief" and "Rise And Set," the cooperative effort takes on a bit more friendly vigor, each player pushing against the other to great effect. But there are no brawls or cutting contests here; the music adheres to the melodies. The push-and-pull always returns to some obedience to the themes.
These are musicians that are self-restrained yet ascendant, able to check their ego in service to the mastery of the moment.