Aram Shelton

saxophonist • composer • improviser

Shelton Ochs Quartet – Two Night in July

This past weekend was full of music – I played two shows & had a recording session with the Shelton Ochs Quartet – where I’m joined by Larry Ochs (of ROVA saxophone quartet),  Kjell Nordeson (of Cylinder, Exploding Customer, AALY Trio among many others) and now Mark Dresser (of many things including John Zorn & Anthony Braxton). I’m obviously the rookie of the bunch.  Larry has been very generous and has pushed this project along and got Mark to come up from San Diego to play these local shows. We’re set to play  at the Stone in New York in September, so this was a way for us to dig into the music before we get there.

Playing with Mark was great – he’s got so much background in playing the new music, on so many levels, that it could be daunting if I thought about it too much. It’s sinking in a bit after the fact, which is a good thing, particularly because playing with him was such a good experience and totally comfortable. The energy he brings to the music is HIGH. He expects clarity in the charts and intention of the music. These are more good things.

We had a rehearsal on thursday at my space in Oakland, and an extended soundcheck / rehearsal at Duende on the Friday afternoon before our show there that night. We got a lot done in a few short rehearsals. The show on Friday went well – had a decent turnout, and we really dug into the music, a third of which was brand new, and all had changes from past performances. Dresser! It was the first time in I don’t know how long that I played with someone who did so many things that I’m not used to hearing. Larry totally brought it, and Kjell’s drumming has become even more focused since he moved down to San Diego to study percussion and pursue his PHD at UCSD.

The Saturday show at Center for New Music had a different energy – we cut two pieces of mine that just don’t seem quite ready for primetime. More ideas than finalized compositions. We still spread it into two sets, as 8 pieces with extended improvisation lends itself to a lot of music. But the focus was even more. Though the vibe & energy of Duende added to our energy, the listening room aspect of CNM allowed us to explore the music in a very different way.

After this weekend, I’m extra excited about the shows in New York in September – the 7th & 8th – 10pm both nights at the Stone.

Ton Trio II at the Layover June 24, 20013

Ton Trio II (with Scott Brown & Alex Vittum) returned to the Layover on Monday night as part of the series that has been going on since January, put on by the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society – run by Fernando & Tracy from VAMP music & art. We hadn’t played since recording at Tiny Telephone during Memorial Day weekend, so I was looking forward to dusting off the charts and seeing what we could do to freshen things up. We played three sets and I really liked how we stretched out – Alex sounded great on the drums, and Scott had some particularly nice bass solos. By the time our third set wrapped up we had a nice audience, and there was generally a  good feel in the bar that night. Unfortunately at the end of the show, after I had plugged next week’s show by Vijay Anderson, I was told that series had been discontinued! Turns out that Layover wasn’t making enough money to justify having the series (they were contributing from the bar). The free jazz/improvised music doesn’t bring out the hard core drinkers, especially on a  Monday night, and that’s where the bar has to make their money.

This is part of the whole thing. Any bar or restaurant or venue that chooses to book this kind of music needs to actually have a vested interest in it. It’s not a money maker. It doesn’t get people dancing (which leads them to drink). It’s music mainly for listening.  I like to perform in casual environments like the Layover, because I think that what we’re doing with TT2 can attract a wider audience of people who aren’t familiar with free jazz, so you might get some new ears. I see rock shows all the time that have elements that challenge the listeners.  I think jazz music should do the same thing – introduce new sounds to the audience, and I think the audience should be willing to accept that. It’s strange that audiences can embrace experimentalism in rock, but not so much in jazz.

I was hopeful with a place like the Layover taking a chance on this kind of music.  Right  now in Oakland there are lots of new bars & restaurants, without the huge amount of customers, so it seems like the perfect time for these places to take a chance on doing something new & interesting, rather than having yet another ipod DJ night. A weekly series is a valuable commodity, and over time (years sometimes) an audience will grow and word will get out that there’s this kind of music on this night that is interesting & unique. I imagine that in the months to come I’ll talk to people and they’ll ask about the series at the Layover, and I’ll have to tell them it’s over. Hopefully by then we’ll find a new home for the series.

Golden Age at Bar 355 June 9, 2013

My newest group is Golden Age, and I’m using it to focus on the more angular / rock-ish ideas I write down from time to time. With Ton Trio II I’m focusing on the swing, and this group is steering in a different direction. I enlisted Mark Clifford on vibes, Matthew Golombisky on electric bass, and  Jordan Glenn on drums to play a date back in April at Cafe Royale set up by our friends at SF Offside.  I brought together some new ideas, and retrofitted a few pieces from the Kodachrome Music suite that I wrote a few years ago, and even a piece written for Flockterkit. The group dynamic is working in this quartet, and the way Matthew plays electric bass really  pulls the material together in ways that keep it really unique in terms of the music I’ve been writing recently. I’m excited about the rhythm section combination of Glenn & Golombisky, one of the best things is that both of them are able to take basic musical kernels into compelling directions, and when they do it simultaneously it’s a good thing indeed. Pairing with a vibraphonist in the front line is one of my favorite things to do, and Mark has a unique style in improvising that is well suited for this music. We shared the bill with solo sets by Lake Millions (Joshua Pollock) guitar & electronics, and Moe! Staiano, drums & guitar. A more intimate audience this night, that’s what a Sunday in Oakland can be like…

Here’s a take of Crispy Crunchy, from the rehearsal for this show:

Dirty Snacks at Makeout Room June 3, 2013

Mark Clifford is a vibraphone player – a very good one, and he writes music too. I met him a few years ago at MamaBuzz Cafe, where he was playing in duo with a bassist. A random encounter that has proved to be fruitful – he’s definitely one of my favorite musicians to work with, as he’s a great player, an interesting composer, and he keeps pushing himself. He’s got a lot of interests musically, but not eccentric. We’ve played together notably in a quintet called “These Are Our Hours”, my new group “Golden Age” and a recent collaborative quartet with Kyle Bruckmann and Anton Hatwich. The group he leads is called Dirty Snacks, and it brings together a few of his interests including through composed song forms, stretched over bars polyrhythms and variety of orchestration into an indie rock-ish starting point. We played at the Makeout Room on June 3rd at the Makeout Monday – the long running monthly show in the Mission. We shared the bill with Karl Evangelista’s Grex and Moe! Staiano’s Surplus 1980.

The lineup for this show, and the one Mark wants to stick to (I think) was Mark, vibes & voice; Elise Cumberland, voice; Hannah van Loon, violin; myself, alto sax& bass clarinet; Marty McGinn, keyboard; Scott Brown, electric bass; and Geneva Harrison, drums. A strong lineup for sure. We were able to really work on the material and the show felt great – the most complex of the tunes not giving any problems,  excellent performances from everyone in the group, and a crowd that showed up early to actually listen! If you’ve ever wanted to see a vibraphonist lead a band and sing at the same time (on only a few tunes), then you’ll want to keep an eye out for the next show.

 

Ton Trio II at Duende – May 18, 2013

Ton Trio II is my newest trio with the young bassist Scott Brown and the “secret weapon” drummer Alex Vittum. We’ve been playing as a trio since early December 2012 at a monthly show at the Layover, a bar in downtown Oakland that is now having creative jazz type music on Monday nights thanks to Fernando Carpenter from VAMP records.  A few months back Jeff Parker contacted me about doing a show together, and things aligned for a night at Duende, a new Basque themed restaurant that is also in downtown Oakland, and has a dedicated performance space for our kind of music. (It’s a great time here in Oakland – places actually opening up that respect this kind of music!)

The space is in the upstairs area, and while sound comes in from the restaurant area, the character of the space makes it worth it.  Ton Trio II played the first set, and we went through seven of our tunes. The room felt good and we played one of the best sets we’ve had to date. Making it all the better, we had a really great turnout, including a lot of friends.  Jeff’s Trio with Chad Taylor (drums) and Chris Lopes (bass) sounded excellent. They have such a connected way of playing together – and there’s a lot of nuances that you can miss if not paying full attention.

Omid Zoufonoun made a very nice two camera video of our set. Keep an eye out for it on the youTube

No shows since 2009?

Not really true, actually, I’ve been playing lots of shows, but partly due to a botched hosting platform transfer, and let’s face it, a lack of due diligence, I’ve been letting this slip. I’m planning to add to this page ongoing, and hope to add other aspects of musical life as well.

So, sorry for the delay, but I’ll try to make up for it…

Marches Ivy Room 8-24-2009

Last night I played at the Ivy Room with Marches, it was our first show with the lineup of myself on alto & tenor, Cory Wright on tenor and baritone, Nate Brenner on bass and Jordan Glenn on drums. This was the original lineup I had in mind when getting the gorup together, but I’m glad that the group has a shifting lineup – it makes each show that much different.

This night was part of the Active Music Series, which is new, and is starting with concerts at the Ivy Room and Blue Six in the Mission. Marches was joined by two groups on this night: Telepathy, with Patrick Cress & Aaron Novik; and ACMD, a quartet of Alan Anzalone, Curtis Hollenbeck, Moe Staiano and Damon Smith.

Telepathy’s music is written by both Patrick Cress and Aaron Novik. The instrumentation of alto & baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, upright bass and drums. The pieces have alot of composed parts, with grooves and a strong rock influence. Tim Bulkley has been back in town for a few weeks from New York – and sounded great on drums. My favorite part was late in the set when there was a baritone, bass and drum trio with alot of space and good textures.

ACMD’s set was a stark contrast – fully improvised, it was a really good quartet. Alan Anzalone brought his soprano sax and bass clarinet, Curtis Hollenbeck played trumpets and typewriter, Damon Smith played bass and Moe Staiano had a drumkit with interesting unusual percussion objects and a large but shallow bass drum. Really strong improvising from everyone in the group, Curtis gravitated towards mainly muted trumpet playing, and interspersed typewriter at the right moments. Alan sounded good on both soprano and bc. The dynamic between Damon and Moe was interesting – Damon was really watching Moe at times and waiting for the right moment to interject ideas.

The Marches set was third, and like I said before, the first show with this lineup. We played some material that wasn’t on the last show with Gene. Nate is a strong bassist, and having him and Jordan play together is a great foundation for playing. Most of the material we have right now is in time, with plenty of room for blowing by the horns. We started with the Walk, which is a ballad we play without improvising. It’s based on a melody the sound of tenor, baritone, bass and drums created a fullness that was a good start to the set. We played the set with a controlled energy, saving the most freedom for Turning, a piece that is in a very loose three with a strong debt to Ayler in both melody and style. Right now my favorite songs in Marches all use tenor and bari! Such a full sound – I’m very into it. Here’s a track:

A good night at the Ivy Room – thanks to ken for hosting! The next show on September 28th will feature Cory Wright’s Group and Cylinder.

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