Aram Shelton’s Fast Citizens: Two Cities (2010)
Fast Citizens may encapsulate a significant shift that's been occurring in creative improvised music over the last few decades, with the collective nature of music by a sextet of musicians who have been around long enough to qualify, more-or-less, as veterans.
This is such an integral aspect of what they do, they make the case that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. For example, on the opening title track, both Keefe Jackson, on tenor sax, and cornet player Josh Berman display their skillful soloing within the composition's essentially expansive framework. The composition is a treat, thanks to the manner in which tension and release is subverted; passages in which the music is an unassuming clamour of voices have the effect of increasing the drama without descending into mere doggerel.
The nominal leader's "Western Promenade" is also right in keeping with the group approach, even while it's so much more than a mere line for blowing on. Shelton's clarinet eschews overt influences even though John Carter's example is perhaps inevitably pertinent, and is reflective even in the midst of Hatwich's bass. Frank Rosaly shows how alert he is to nuance and volume, something of which a lot of drummers lose sight.
"VRC#9" is pretty singular, too, rife with ideas showing the group's innovation lies in collective hands as opposed to individuals. There's a restless, skittering quality to the music that isn't dissembling despite any negative implications. There's a reflective heart to it, too, a quality perhaps best reflected in the work of the Lonberg-Holm/Hatwich/Rosaly cartel, especially by dint of the deep listening going on within the group.
"the Twenty-Seven" is something else again, in the sense that it's the closest to long-established precedents of anything in this program, although Berman deeply undermines that impression. The seemingly arbitrary nature of the music at this stage proves only too illusory, however, and when the leader gets his shot, he projects something considered and summarises the apparent contradictions that this band has no trouble reconciling.
Track Listing: Two Cities; Big News; Western Promenade; VRC#9; In Cycles; I Am Here, You Are There; the Twenty-Seven; Wontkins; Easy.
Personnel: Josh Berman: cornet; Aram Shelton: alto sax, clarinet; Keefe Jackson: tenor sax, bass clarinet; Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello; Anton Hatwich: bass; Frank Rosaly: drums.