Ton Trio at Memory Select

Given the number of great musicians the Bay Area has lost to other cities, it’s nice when someone from Chicago or New York decides to come here. Oboeist Kyle Bruckmann has been here for a while, participating actively in the sfSound modern-classical collective. And now we get Aram Shelton.
Like any creative musician, Shelton has been involved in a wide range of projects. I’ve been impressed with the trio Dragons 1976, which plays improvised jazz with hints of soul-jazz, at least to my ear, and a dryly crisp sound that I really enjoy. He’s gone into more introspective, electronics-laden territory with the duo Son of Gunnar, Ton of Shel.
The Bay Area-based Ton Trio delivers a good, direct slice of free jazz, with thoughtful composing and terrific, energetic interplay. There’s a tint of Albert Ayler, too, especially in the title track, “The Way,” with that faux marching band proudness. Ayler seems to also be there, less directly, in “One Last Thing” and “Old Thoughts.” Maybe it’s the breed of melodicism Shelton favors. Maybe I’m just kidding myself.
Getting deeper into those last two tracks: “One Last Thing” is a fine slice of free jazz, coming out calmly with an uplifting melody, then bubbling into form. Sam Ospovat hammers away on drums while Shelton and bassist Kurt Kotheimer take flight. Great stuff, with an energetic post-swing to it. “Old Thoughts” really gets into it, some hard-driving free-jazz work with a terrific drum solo.
The slow songs tend to get short shrift when I’m reviewing jazz, but “Switches” really caught my ear. It opens up with a pattern that’s like gradual breathing, a slow awakening — but Ospovat’s drumming is just going nuts behind it, lots of little cymbal clashings that tell you there’s more energy building than you think. And while the piece stays rather laid-back, it does get into some gnarly bass clarinet work.

Original posted at Memory Select.

Ton Trio at Paris Transatlantic

Tradition can be a perilous thing, especially when one is compelled to both clearly follow one’s forebears and express oneself in a very personal manner. Alto saxophonist and clarinetist Aram Shelton is a young improvising composer who has called the Bay Area home for the last several years, though he came up in Chicago’s jazz hotbed alongside cornetist Josh Berman, drummer Frank Rosaly, and tenorman Keefe Jackson. The Way finds Shelton in the company of bassist Kurt Kotheimer and drummer Sam Ospovat on six originals. In the liner notes to last year’s self-titled Dragons 1976 disc, Shelton professed a kinship to Ornette, Ayler, and Shepp – and it is a testament to the reedman’s conviction in his own work to acknowledge his influences and yet (judging from recorded evidence) forge a distinct path.
Opening the set is the title track, a warm singsong melody that recalls mid-1960s Ornette as well as some of Steve Lacy’s nursery-rhyme tunes. It’s here that the similarities to 1965 end, though – Shelton’s alto, while hitting tartly rounded contours, moves into areas of severe repetition and abstraction, sort of like a self-contained albeit folksy “Nonaah.” Ospovat is bullish and thrashing, mining Shelton’s theme for explosive rhythmic nuggets. The bassist’s supple pizzicato underpins it all, his gauzy melodic shading offering just enough resolution to keep the triangle equilateral. “One Last Thing” has an incredibly infectious roiling groove, at slight odds with Shelton’s concentrated behind-the-beat cells. His solo elongates and circles back in on itself, Ospovat and Kotheimer hacking away at overlaid tempi yet never losing a profound sense of swing. “Switches” is one of two pieces featuring Shelton’s bass clarinet, an instrument he plays with precision and delicacy. Beginning with a husky duet of low reed and plucked bass, the pair move quickly into a stuttering theme before Shelton’s solo emerges, filled with wry, teasing snatches of phrase. The Way is an excellently-paced set, its quizzical themes dispatched quickly and engagingly – the disc clocks in at just under forty minutes. Shelton, Kotheimer and Ospovat comprise a trio of utmost conviction.

Original post at Paris Transatlantic

Ton Trio at All About Jazz

Tasting just one slice of the musical pie that is Aram Shelton, one finds him in his Bay area trio with bassist Kurt Kotheimer and drummer Sam Ospovat. His Ton Trio makes a jazz sound reminiscent of a ’60s venture into The New Thing, yet favors a very melodic writing.

The saxophonist gained fame in Chicago in groups including Dragons 1976, Arrive, Grey Ghost, Fast Citizens, and Rapid Croche. His California music has been found in the bands Flockterkit, Son of Gunnar Ton of Shel, the Shelton/Healy duo, the Pink Canoes and Settled. Ton Trio formed in 2007.

The opening “The Way” recalls early Ornette Coleman with Shelton and Ospovat playing the simple melody repeatedly until the song opens into its improvisational phase. What impresses here is the equality of force—the saxophone, drums and bass share equally in the sound mix. Every minute gesture of Ospovat is heard, and he is equally responsible for the melody. The Nebraska-born drummer, now living in Paris, is comfortable both in jazz and rock.

Both “One Last Thing” and “Switches” rely on the rhythm section’s energy to carry the weight as Shelton switches between alto saxophone and bass clarinet. His sound, as heard in his band Dragons 1976, can be powerfully free, but here he chooses to maintain a biting yet restrained approach. As Ospovat whirls and twirls his kit and Kotheimer drives a steady groove, Shelton perpetuates the core essence of these tracks.

One hears the flavor of Jimmy Garrison in the Akron-born bassist’s tone as Kotheimer leads Shelton through “External Frame,” while perhaps Ron Carter’s voice is summoned on the mirror-track “Internal Frame.” These bookend compositions are chamber improvisation pieces that complete the focused nature of this outing.

The melody and “arranged” improvisational writing of Shelton are impressive and quite delectable.

Original post at All About Jazz