Cylinder (Clean Feed; 2011)
Aaram Shelton (sax)
Darren Johnston (trumpet)
Lisa Mezzacappa (bass)
Kjell Nordeson (drums)
I have become a huge fan of Aram Shelton's work over the last couple years. His various groups/projects are all very different. His departure to San Francisco from Chicago adds a great new thinker to the ever growing West Coast avant garde and free jazz movement.
With his latest collective work, Cylinder, Shelton actually becomes more a member of a unit than leader. And a stellar unit it is. There is a lot of creative thinking going on throughout this session. Each member has a history of moving in and out of both avant garde, free jazz, chamber and straight ahead circles. On their debut as Cylinder it all melds into one of the best sessions you'll experience all year. It's not because it's built on a Free Jazz motif, it's more because of the effectiveness of the performances and concepts within each piece.
You can hear shades of Ornette Coleman or Don Cherry throughout, but the group really doesn't rely on history. In fact, they might be shaping it (if this is an ongoing quartet). While this is a group effort, each member does have opportunity to express themselves on selected pieces. "The Ear That Was Sold To A Fish" opens with a lovely duel phrasing from Shelton and Johnston. Johnston, who has worked in the avant garde arena for years (on both sides of the Atlantic) works in the stratosphere with some beautiful lyrical notes.
A revelation for me was Lisa Mezzacappa, whom I've only known by name but hadn't investigated her music (until now), and I have to say I've really been missing out on an amazing bassist. She has this ability to hit the thick notes delicately and with poise and makes you really feel it. "Sung By Dogs" is one of those moments. The galloping rhythm laid out by Mezzacappa and Nordeson accompanying on the horns makes for a haunting yet rich piece with lots of intersections for the ear to latch on to.
The individual work of both drummer and bassist rises again on both "The Deep Disciplines" and "Crossings" where both share some nice crosscurrents early on and then the quartet regroups midway and runs through a set of improvised moment before catching a groove that is covered by Johnston and later Shelton's fierce sonic resonance.
"Skipped Rocks" sees Shelton moving poetically on clarinet while his bandmates mingle and experiment with sound. "Skipped Rocks" isn't a track where you have to listen closely. The melody and theories take hold quickly (even for the uninitiated) and its beautiful. Cylinder closes on a more free form note than it began with "Earthworm" which weaves its way in and out with sublime work from Mezzacappa and Shelton. It's a piece that doesn't rise in tone so much as it elevates in texture and density. Cylinder seem to utilize the space around them and gives you a look inside the mind of a well focused quartet with a multitude of ideas.
While Cylinder may get headlines because of Aram Shelton, it really is a complete group with a swirl of theories and concepts that makes it one of the best future-forward bands on the scene right now. I really hope they record regularly. An excellent listen.