Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Aram Shelton's Fast Citizens and "Two Cities"

There is a very healthy trend in much of the new jazz coming out of Chicago, as I see it. There is a loose confederation of musicians who place equal emphasis on both the warp and woof of jazz, and they do it quite well. Fast Citizens is one such unit. Josh Berman's group in Old Idea (see earlier review on this blog) is another. Lucky 7s still another. I'm sure I'm leaving out others but the point is that Keefe Jackson's tenor and Josh Berman's trumpet are a part of all three ensembles, and that all three groups have a more or less similar approach, and most importantly, they are doing some considerably absorbing music.

The Fast Citizens Unit has a rotating leadership position. For this second album it is alto man Aram Shelton, who writes much of the material on Two Cities (Delmark), though Keefe Jackson, cellist Fred Longberg-Holm and bassist Anton Hatwich also contribute one or two numbers each. Like Eric Dolphy's most engaging later groups and any of the ensembles of Henry Threadgill, this music has a very listenable balance between freedom and discipline, solo and ensemble, composition and improvisation. The group has strong soloists in Aram Shelton on alto and clarinet as well as Jackson and Berman. The two-man string sub-group of Lonberg-Holm and Hatwich provide contrasting solo and ensemble resources that give the band additional resonance and punch. Drummer Frank Rosaly has a sensitive touch but can drive when the music calls for it.

Two Cities rolls through nine diversely substantial pieces and provides one of the most interesting and ingenious offerings I've heard in this rapidly waning year. Fast Citizens makes vital music.

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