On and On at Cardboard Music (Belgium)

Well here we are again after many months away, surely it’s time to get a few posts up and running again? To start the ball rolling are a couple of new releases from Aram Shelton’s Singlespeed music label.

Aram’s cooperative label has been gradually developing with nine releases to date so far. The latest three albums are all really top level releases deserving wide-scale attention from all those who are interested, especially those interested in creative improvised music but with composition, structure, melody and swinging free-bop as some of the central points.

First up is Aram’s own release, Ton Trio II: On and On (Singlespeed Music, SSM-013).

I haven’t heard the first album from the Ton Trio, released back in 2009, titled “The Way”. However, if this latest album is anything to go by I’ll be ordering a copy to catch up on this very creative band. The musicians in the trio have now changed with the excellent Alex Vittum drums and Scott Brown on bass and Aram on alto sax, naturally. The thing that struck me most on first listen is the sheer energy and creativity in the music, which stays at a high level throughout the whole album. His style of composition, and playing treads a line between that of (the free-er side) Jackie McLean and the inner melodic logic of Ornette Coleman. Of course it’s certainly not a copy, but the sound of Aram’s alto, the bass and drums trio set up, make it difficult to ignore such a comparison. The other aspect that brings these giants to mind is the wonderful set of compositions which all have melody at their heart, almost catchy at times.

As for Aram Shelton, like Jackie McLean, he seems capable of combing several elements into his music.This aspect comes up on his other albums and shows a strong melodic understanding, which also comes across in his playing. Melody is a constant thread throughout the improvisations, even with multi-phonic stabs or wild atonal lines.

On this album the band pulls together at all levels showing some fine empathy for the compositions, floating through the free-er improvisations moving between free-bop and rubato sections with ease. Orange Poppies (tk2) burns away falling into a free section where the band follow each other like a dog chasing its tail. We Were Told (tk3) is a rubato melody that lays the groundwork for an open piece with plenty of space. Aram works on the tonal possibilities of the sax whilst Alex Vittum’s drums accompany. It’s also a chance to hear Scott Brown’s bass playing as he steps forward on a short solo workout. On and On (tk4) and Let’s All Go (tk5) are both pieces which tackle a 3/4 (or 6/8) feel both have bouncing melodies to accompany them. Interestingly both tunes make space for Alex Vittum to play some fine solo drum workouts which build themselves into the compositions. Freshly Pressed (tk7) is an all out free-bop romp, the alto steps aside at one stage to play some gently unison lines with the bass, leaving the drums to keep the high energy going. Findings (tk8) is the closest you come to a ballad on the record. The last track Turncoats show the group swinging hard. There are burning lines from Aram and some highly playful backing from the bass and drums who try to re-think the rhythmic pulse in several different ways, giving a constantly twist to the music. The music finishes by returning to an almost film like melody which is tinged with a certain sadness, a fine ending to a great album.

This splendid album is a ‘must’ for all those who really enjoy music that sits somewhere between open structures and melodic free-bop. It will surely appeal to anyone who has been (or is) a fan of Jackie McLean. There is a resemblance, although brought up to date, to such classics from Jackie’s highly productive period of “Destination..Out”, “One Step Beyond”, “Old and New Gospel” or even the musical experiments of Grachan Moncur III*. Of course if you haven’t heard Aram’s music before then you’ll be in for a treat.

by Joe Higham. Originally posted at Cardboard Music.