ASQ at Monterey Jazz Fest

It’s all funk and soul on the outdoor stages this afternoon, but here in the close darkness of the Coffee House Gallery the atmosphere is quite different. While other bands shimmy and slam, saxophonist Aram Shelton is leading his postmodern Oakland/Chicago ensemble through a cerebral obstacle course.

“Rise and Set” is typically knotty. Shelton and co-conspirator Keefe Jackson slip in and out of unison on alto and tenor sax, playing against clockwork complications from drummer Tim Daisy. A vigorous, oblique solo from Jackson falls away as the band slides abruptly into a more relaxed pace, then Anton Hatwich gets the room to himself for a studious bass solo.

Shelton switches to clarinet for “An Interrupted Stroll,” spinning and bouncing as Daisy reinvents his rhythm. The drummer shifts constantly between sticks and brushes, his arms jerking every which way. Jackson’s sound is croaking here, gritty and almost sneering on the next number (“Fleeting”), as Shelton rolls and hitches his own lines with abandon.

The band opens it way up for “Joints and Tendons,” a possible double-entendre title that prompts Jackson to quip, “Aram was a completely different guy before he moved to California.” The tune itself is spacious and abstract, with skittery drums and melancholy horns, showing both the avant-garde influences of this group and the unique dynamic these musicians create by bridging two very different jazz scenes.

Originally published at Jazz Observer