Thursday, May 03, 2012

CD Review: Nordeson Shelton - Incline

Nordeson Shelton
(Single Speed Music)

Some drums-and-saxophone duos make listeners forget that there isn't a rhythm section or additional lead instruments buttressing the music. (That's a verb not used enough in writing like this.) Through dynamics or sheer brute force, there's usually enough sound taking place so that anything more would be excessive.

Kjell Nordeson (drums) and Aram Shelton (alto saxophone) might not have attempted to go in the opposite direction, but there are several moments in Incline where the stripped-down sound ("minimalism" isn't really fitting) is in plain view. "Slope," the eight-minute closing track, forgoes an end-of-the-album blowout in favor of droning notes and streams of air from the horn and subdued percussives from wood blocks and metal. As he does in other tracks during the album, Shelton ruminates on his alto, playing simple figures which he hangs in the air and casually reshapes and restates. Long notes morph into buzzes or high squeals, while Nordeson imitates a ticking clock to cue the ending. "Slope" actually comes off more like a comedown after "Soles," the penultimate track that also begins gently but takes off after two minutes into a roll of driving percussion and expansive alto lines.

Nordeson's multi-directional approach to his kit has been noticeable up to this point - and compelling in the way it's panned between the two channels. But what isn't clear at first is that he doesn't play the trap kit in the typical free manner of press rolls and thundering toms. There are bass drum explosions but the wood and metal mentioned earlier, along with splash cymbals, shape most of his performance. The whole thing has a jittery sound to it, but it also makes him the focal point or the shaper of these nine tracks, and contributes to the overall bare sound of the performance.

Shelton, who is also a gifted composer and bandleader with his quartet and in the Chicago-based Fast Citizens (where he lived before relocating to California), gets some unique tonal qualities out of his horn too. In "Village" his growl has a metallic sound that evokes a guitarist like Marc Ribot. "Tower" offers a guessing game where it's hard to tell if you're hearing bowed cymbals or quiet saxophone notes and/or the pads of the alto being shut rapidly or gentle sticks or rims.

Nordeson and Shelton also play together in the quartet Cylinder in addition to this setting, which they've kept together since 2008. Nordeson came to San Francisco two years prior after numerous projects in his native Sweden, among them the AALY Trio with Mats Gustafsson. Few of the tracks on Incline last more than five minutes, and perhaps due to that, Shelton doesn't take opportunities to cut loose as much as his accomplice. While the album might not be as consistant as Cylinder's self-titled 2011 disc on Clean Feed, these guys should spark the interest of free improv fans.

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