Larry Ochs - Aram Shelton Quartet (aka Continental Drift) / CONTINENTAL DRIFT
ARAM SHELTON: alto saxophone
LARRY OCHS: tenor and sopranino saxophones
KJELL NORDESON: drums
MARK DRESSER: bass (tracks 1-3 + 5 -7)
SCOTT WALTON: bass (tracks 4 + 8)
Another Night 8:02
Continental Drift 5:24
Test Shots 7:15
The Others Dream 19:24
Tracks 1, 3, 5, 7 composed by Aram Shelton
Tracks 2, 4, 6, 8 composed by Larry Ochs
Aram Shelton arrived on the San Francisco Bay Area scene in 2005 and was a vital presence there until his departure for Copenhagen in 2016. Almost from the beginning of his time here, I wanted to do some kind of project with him. We didn't play together often, but in another Universe, one where promoters were not generally afraid to book so-called "improvised music" or "avant jazz" or "free jazz," Aram and I would long ago have formed a working group that toured once or twice a year. I obviously don't have any idea what the word "accessible" means, but our music, and much of the music I admire, doesn't qualify to fit within that word’s common meaning. So it was only at almost the very end of Aram's Bay Area tenure that he and I finally got our act coordinated time-wise and focused on this recording. In summer 2013 we recorded all but one of the pieces on this CD, thinking after the session ended that we had a recording to release. Listening back to a mix of "The Others Dream" months later however, it was clear to me that that piece needed to be re-recorded. The individual playing was great, but the architecture of the piece, the transitions / the flow - the intrinsic elements of a piece that make music really happen, they just weren't ready yet.
Mark Dresser lives in San Diego; he's a busy guy. We couldn't find a time to get him back up to the Bay Area when we were all in town too; Kjell Nordeson was also spending a ton of time at UC San Diego. And then Aram moved to Copenhagen. That made re-recording with the original quartet virtually impossible. In fact it took 2.5 years just for Aram and I to be in the Bay Area at the same time. So in 2018, we asked Scott Walton to sub for Mark on "The Others Dream," and that went so well, so quickly, that we recorded "Continental Drift" on the same session. Aram suggested that title to me right after the piece was recorded, and it later seemed like a perfect title for the CD itself.
The music rocks. Everybody plays like it's a live gig. You can see the perspiration on the CD's grooves. Hope you dig it as much as I do.
From Clean Feed: Can musicians of different generations be like-minded companions? Yes they can, at least when their names are Larry Ochs and Aram Shelton, the two composers and bandleaders of this quartet. As they themselves acknowledge, “Continental Drift” is a kinetic meeting of sorts, with compositions that are designed to inspire magnificent contributions from the entire team of players, both individually and collectively. The resulting music profits greatly from each members' individual capacities and personalities. Ochs and Shelton's musical backgrounds are both quite varied, evidenced by their own separate pasts exploring the worlds of jazz, contemporary classical, electro-acoustic and "other" music. More than that, both have been important voices of the San Francisco Bay Area improvised music scene: Ochs being a cutting-edge Bay Area improviser since the 1970’s, while Shelton, now living in Europe, is also known for his connections to the very different Chicago scene. Each plays in his own way, but they share the same principles and look for very similar results - together creating new music with a jazz approach and an avant-garde attitude, not alienated from history. Created in two recording sessions spaced almost exactly five years apart, Continental Drift encompasses a wide range of styles and deep-felt emotion. The musicians leave it all on the floor here through inspired and unique performances.
an early review from Bruce Gallanteer at Downtown Music Gallery:
LARRY OCHS / ARAM SHELTON QUARTET with MARK DRESSER / SCOTT WALTON / KJELL NORDESON - Continental Drift (Clean Feed 555; Portugal)
...“This is an interesting blend of musicians from alternating scenes working together, a double sax-led quartet with one of two different bassists on each date, the sessions recorded five years apart. The older session (recorded in July of 2013) featured Mark Dresser (from San Diego) on bass while the other session (from July of 2018) has Scott Walton (from L.A.) on bass. Both frontline saxists contributed four pieces each. Although originally from Florida, alto saxist, Aram Shelton, moved to Chicago, becoming an integral part of that scene before moving to Oakland, CA, where he still resides. Larry Ochs, who is a longtime member of the Rova Sax Quartet, has had several of his own bands through the many years, always choosing his collaborators wisely. Commencing with Shelton’s “Another Night”, the quartet lays back and simmers while both saxists take dreamy, laid back solos on alto (sic - tenor) and then sopranino saxes (sic - alto), building nicely but not erupting too intensely until the last section. I love Shelton’s piece, “Switch”, which has one of those sort-of South African-like melodies which I find most invigorating plus inspired solos from both saxists. Both rhythm teams here, no matter which musician is playing the bass, sounds great at playing this material. On the title track, things slow down for some great, suspense-filled sections, sublime flute and sax softly intertwine and brings us quietly back down to Mother Earth. The secret weapon here is the distinctive & powerful bass-work on Mark Dresser, throbbing at the center of the storm on several pieces. The final piece, “The Others Dream” is long (nearly 20 minutes) and covers alot of ground. L.A. bassist Scott Walton gets a chance to stretch out here and also sounds great during his solo. This piece is episodic with different connected sections and several strong sax solos at different points. This disc is one of the best efforts we’ve heard from Clean Feed recently.” - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
ARAM SHELTON is an avant jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, improviser and composer. Originally from southeast Florida, Shelton lived in Chicago from 1999 to 2005, in San Francisco from 2005 – 2015, and has since relocated to the EU, currenty residing in Budapest. He stays connected to Chicago through his Chicago Quartet, the Fast Citizens (Delmark), and Jason Adasiewicz' Rolldown (Cuneiform). His writing and playing is grounded in and influenced by the rich history of avant-jazz and free improvisation in America and Europe since the 1950s and has been documented through more than a dozen albums since 2003. In addition to the Oakland & Chicago based groups, Shelton has recently performed in California, New York and Berlin with the likes of Larry Ochs, Tony Buck, Magda Mayas, James Fei, Fred Frith, Josh Berman, Matt Bauder, Jason Ajemian, Tomas Fujiwara, Marco Eneidi, Josh Sinton, Mary Halvorson, Weasel Walter, Gino Robair, Jacob Wick, and Scott Looney. In the past he has been fortunate to perform with a wide variety of talented musicians including Ken Vandermark, Audrey Chen, Henry Grimes, Daniel Carter, Dave Rempis, Nate Wooley, Liz Albee, Rob Mazurek, Jeff Parker, Frank Gratkowski, Josh Abrams, Harris Eisenstadt, Jeb Bishop. He has performed in Europe, Canada and the United States including appearances at the Chicago Jazz Festival, the Suoni per il Popolo Festival in Montreal, and the Krakow Autumn Jazz Festival.
"As an improviser, he possesses the mind of a composer, such is the consideration he puts into his work" - All About Jazz // "Shelton plays alto with a singing sound and a wonderful way of developing juicy phrases into full-blown solos." - John Litweiler www.aramshelton.com
KJELL NORDESON is a Swedish musician residing in California. As a percussionist and drummer he has toured and played around 1200 concerts in altogether twenty-six different countries within the last twenty years. He is featured on over fifty CDs. He has worked together with musicians such as (long time collaborator) Mats Gustafsson, Peter Brötzmann, Barry Guy, Stefano Scodanibbio, Joe Morris, William Parker, Mark Dresser, Larry Ochs, Sten Sandell and many others. Kjell participated in Derek Bailey’s Company Week in London, 1990. Kjell has worked as musician and composer in numerous theatre and contemporary dance performances at Sweden’s Dramaten (Royal Dramatic Theater), Riksteatern (National Theater), Stockholm's Stadsteater (City Theater), and The Orion Theater in Stockholm.
MARK DRESSER is an internationally acclaimed bass player, improviser, composer, and interdisciplinary collaborator. A major focus has been extending the sonic and musical possibilities of the double bass through the use of unconventional amplification. A chapter on his extended techniques for contrabass, “A Personal Pedagogy,” appears in the book, ARCANA. He is documented in over one hundred recordings including nearly thirty CDs as a soloist, band-leader or co-leader. For eighteen years he lived and worked in New York City where he recorded and performed with some of the strongest personalities in contemporary music and jazz including nine years with Anthony Braxton. In 2001 he was nominated for a Grammy. He is Professor of Music at University of California, San Diego. He has also been a lecturer at Princeton University, faculty at the New School University, and Hampshire College. He is on the board of directors of the International Society of Bassists and the advisory board of International Society of Improvised Music. www.mark-dresser.com
SCOTT WALTON is a bassist and pianist whose music negotiates the terrain between jazz, free improvisation, and the classical avant-garde. He has performed in festivals and venues throughout North America and Europe in a host of collaborative contexts, and has recorded with Alex Cline, Vinny Golia, Myra Melford, Steve Adams, Nels Cline, Tim Perkis, Michael Vllatkovich, Gilbert Isbin, George Lewis, Anthony Davis, and Bobby Bradford, among many others. He currently resides in south of France.
As a member of Rova Saxophone Quartet since 1978, LARRY OCHS has made more than two-dozen CDs and 40 tours to Europe and Japan, including tours to the USSR in 1983 and 1989. He has recorded dozens of CDs with his other touring bands including the bands Maybe Monday with Fred Frith and Miya Masaoka; Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core, which toured Europe from 2002 – 2009, releasing five CDs between 2000 and 2017; Kihnoua, featuring Korean singer Dohee Lee, Scott Amendola and Wilbert de Joode; and Ochs-Robinson Duo (2013- present).
Most recent bands: Spectral: a trio of Dave Rempis- Darren Johnston-Larry Ochs; The Fictive Five. (with Nate Wooley, Ken Filiano, Pascal Niggenkemper and Harris Eisenstadt); Cleaver-Cline-Ochs (Gerald Cleaver, Nels Cline, Ochs); Jones Jones: Mark Dresser, Vladimir Tarasov, Ochs. ... He has performed with Kronos Quartet, Glenn Spearman, Wadada Leo Smith, John Zorn, Marilyn Crispell, Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, Satoko Fujii + Natsuki Tamura, John Lindberg, Lisle Ellis, Andrew Cyrille, Butch Morris, George Lewis, Henry Kaiser, Peggy Lee, and many other
Luminaries of the Improvised Music world. www.ochs.cc
Larry Ochs - Aram Shelton Quartet: CONTINENTAL DRIFT ****
Continental Drift by Ochs-Shelton Quartet asks, “Can a quartet album of different generations be like-minded companions?” By the work of this group with Ochs on tenor and sopranino, Shelton on alto, Kjell Nordeson on drums and Mark Dresser on double-bass for six tracks and Mark Walton on double bass for the balance, ultimately one realizes it's a rhetorical question.
Not immediately accessible but not impenetrable, at times the songs meander or lurch or step up tempo and velocity, but they always have a reason or motivation or goal. This is not a seamless integration and for me that is its best feature. The two horns are not battling but speaking in their own idiom lapping or overlapping, paralleling or contrasting one another as the rhythm section locks in to complement or expand the music, with what the liner notes call “new music with a jazz approach and an avant-garde attitude.” Ochs and Shelton divide the composition duties evenly.
The opener, “Another Night,” by Shelton, starts with the horns dancing like snakes that then give way to a languid bass-drum conversation. Ochs tenor enters at the same, easy gait, like someone just stepped outside to see what’s happening now that the sun has gone down. Shelton and Ochs get back together then trade off on a nice carpet of rhythms from Norderson and Dresser. The dynamics are subtle, even graceful as the tune ends.
“Slat” from Ochs’ pen is up next and like its predecessor takes its time revving up. Horns stammer and stutter, before gaining momentum from Norderson to break into some out playing, again the two horns working individually with a collective purpose. Dresser explores the range of his bass, too, giving the tune a soothing undulating vibe.
Both Ochs and Shelton have experiences in different scenes, from New York to Chicago to San Francisco and even overseas now for Shelton whose groover “Switch” conjures up his time in the Windy City; a little freer, at times but with those locked in rhythms that are one hallmark of Chicago’s contribution to the jazz diaspora.
Mark Walton and Ochs open the latter’s “Continental Drift” with the somber grounding of a bowed bass and the fluttering flickers of Ochs’ horn before Shelton and Nordeson chime in. There’s almost a slight electro-acoustic tone to this piece, which given the leaders’ background in disparate genres is no surprise. It's a music that I’ve come to only later in my jazz wanderings. So, I’m toss around phrases like “sound-sculpting” at my own risk but there is a sense of construction, of building a piece out of sound to my ears. In the context of the album it isn’t a misstep or diversion but another mile-marker on the way.
Anita,” by Shelton slows everything down in a good way, call it an “almost chamber ballad.” Twittering horns and rolling cymbals simply emanate from the speakers and horns begin soliloquies and conversations. It's a spacious tune, allowing the listener to drink deep at the well.
“Strand” by Ochs starts off with some bass and drums and sounds like the Chicago influence is rubbing off in the best way. Ochs tenor ratchets up the heat with a throaty scorch as Nordeson and Dresser manage to support and encourage his playing.
Aram’s “Test Shots” settles into its own groove and sounds as if Shelton is synthesizing the concepts of earlier tracks. This is the sound of a band working at focused purposes rather than cross purposes
Ochs’ sopranino opens his composition, “The Others Dream”, the album’s magnum opus, could be its own release. He flutters and squawks as Nordeson minds his cymbals and kick drums sounding almost like a pianist to my ears. The sounds can be fractured or stuttered but responsive. The artists let the music unfold at its own pace, moving through several phases. Ochs blows some gut-bucket avant-garde, and Shelton contributes his swirls of sound later. Rising and falling seems to be a theme. And while 19 plus minutes can be a challenge coming to it as its own piece may be the best way for one to enter at first.
Each of us carries a history of places, faces, ups and down. And while our experiences are unique, they are common, too: we all have them. Larry Ochs and Aram Shelton Quartet create a space where a variety of experiences mesh to create a new, vibrant listening one. Take your time, work on it, let it work on you.
Larry Ochs / Aram Shelton Quartet — Continental Drift (Clean Feed)
Tenor / sopranino saxophonist Larry Ochs has been playing jazz, free improvisation and whatever you choose to call all the many things that the ROVA Saxophone Quartet plays since the 1970s, which is when alto saxophonist Aram Shelton was born. While improvisation is an integral element of his practice, it often arises from rigorously composed frameworks. Before moving to Ochs’ neck of the woods in 2005, Shelton was part of the robust Chicago scene, where his project included playing tune-oriented music indebted to Ornette Coleman’s conception of free jazz in the trio Dragons 1976 and electro-acoustic improvisation in the excellent duo, Grey Ghost. Shelton also contributed to Fast Citizens, a collective that included Keefe Jackson, Fred Lonberg-Holm and Frank Rosaly, and contributed appositely to his peers’ various projects. While they varied in kind and character, they shared a collegial egalitarianism particular to the Chicago community.
Both saxophonists contribute compositions to the Larry Ochs / Aram Shelton Quartet. The group’s other members don’t, but they’re both veterans whose acumen contributes to this CD’s success. Mark Dresser is a virtuoso bassist, and drummer Kjell Nordeson was part of the Scandinavian contingent whose frequent visits shook things up in Chicago just before Shelton got there. While both are inspiring improvisers, they also appreciate the discipline of giving a composition or arrangement what it needs. They’re equally at home realizing the fleet, swinging groove of Shelton’s “Switch” or the carefully orchestrated shifts between staggering and charging rhythmic attacks on Ochs’ “Slat.” Their accompaniment often commands attention by pushing against a tune’s grain in ways that makes you notice and appreciate whatever they’re pushing against.
But if their contributions contribute immeasurably to the music’s success, they also figure in its scarcity. Both Dresser and Nordeson are educators as well as working musicians, They teach in San Diego. Most of Continental Drift was recorded in 2013, but after Ochs concluded that album’s final piece, “The Others Dream,” needed re-recording, it proved nigh on impossible to get everyone back into the studio for another go before Shelton left town for Europe in 2016. So that and the title track were finally recorded in 2018 when he came back for a brief visit, with Scott Walton on bass.
Whatever Ochs found wrong with the original version of “The Others Dream,” the reconstituted quartet certainly got things right in the end. The piece is nearly 20 minutes long, and it doesn’t spend much time revisiting known territory, but the quartet never loses track of its pace or the solemnity that rests at the foundation of each player’s impassioned solo turns. While Walton does yeoman’s work by maintaining the music’s center of gravity, Nordeson is marvelous, simultaneously stoking and commenting upon the saxophonists’ elongated orations. If geography, politics or the pandemic keep the quartet from reuniting, this disc shows exactly why it needed to be together in the first place.