Wednesday, November 07, 2018

CD Review: Aram Shelton & Håkon Berre - Dormancy/ Aram Shelton & Ole Mofjell - Uncovered

Aram Shelton & Håkon Berre

Aram Shelton & Ole Mofjell

Aram Shelton was becoming a significant part of the Chicago jazz scene in the early 2000s. Then he moved to San Francisco. He continued to perform at a brisk pace there, playing with several different projects and running his Single Speed label. Then he moved to Copenhagen. Even then, the alto saxophonist hasn't slowed down, recording two discs with two different drummers that he met while living there.

The alto/drum set-up is nothing new to Shelton, who released a set of improvisations with drummer Kjell Nordeson in 2012. In this context, he is just as likely to revel in the sonic possibilities of his instrument as he is to blow some choice, fragmented melodies. Shelton's co-conspirators on both albums incite different ideas from him, helping him choose how to utilize his horn.

Dormancy, recorded in last January in Copenhagen with Norwegian drummer Håkon Berre might be the more visceral album of the two. Shelton draws on techniques such as multiphonics - creating two saxophone notes simultaneously -  slapping the saxophone pads, making his horn growl like guitar feedback and creating a strong drone of overtones which he holds through circular breathing. Berre is a responsive player, sometimes holding back and clattering on metal and cymbals, and other times lighting a fire that gets the duo moving toward an intense climax. This sense of adventure can sometimes wear thin during a whole session but Shelton and Berre never get lost in their technique. The album features more than free squonk as well. "New Growth" opens with the saxophonist blowing pensive lines that add up to a great thought, while Berre calmly moves across his kit.

In contrast to Berre, Ole Mofjell's moves at a much faster pace even when he plays freely. His rapid rolls and movement across his kit don't relent for the first four minutes of Uncovered's opening title track. Shelton's contribution here comes in a line that he delivers with an equal amounts of speed and definition. Another lengthy track, the 12-minute "Aspect," builds like a piece with different sections built into it due to the way Shelton's phrases take different shapes. "Frame" has a bluesy quality that could be a reference to Ornette Coleman, while Mofjell's steady groove on "Bomba" recalls Ed Blackwell's tom-heavy work with that saxophonist. The connection between these two players makes this disc the stronger of the two, although Dormancy still has a strong blast of energy music.

Around the time that Shelton released these discs earlier this year, he was moving yet again, this time to Hungary. Hopefully he's found some like-minded collaborators there too.

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