Aram Shelton's 'This Was...,' recorded with his group Arrive in 2008 is a serious affair that is quite a fun and demanding listen.
I was first struck by how cool this group was, cool in the sense of how the vibes, the upright acoustic bass, the commanding sax, and some very hip drumming, casts a spell. At the same time, I was impressed by how hot the band was, in the sense of, well, just tearing it up. Their intensity is impressive, but so is how neatly they color outside the lines. While on the surface the tunes may feel very composed and modern, a deeper listen reveals some fine and fierce free playing.
I think by the time I got to the tune, 'Lost,' I found myself thoroughly engaged. Jason Adasiewicz's vibraphone and Jason Roebke's bass generate a palpable density that is buoyed by Tim Daisy's drums. On top, Shelton has a serious foundation for spinning fractured and dazzling solos. Adasiewicz shines throughout, using the vibes to set a dark, sometimes mysterious, atmosphere. His solos, like on the laid-back 'Frosted' are as tantalizing as Shelton's, reacting to the rhythm section, always servicing the aesthetic of the song but not pulling any punches.
Shelton's composing blends sophisticated syncopation and harmonies, and all the songs are distinctive. The suspended and slow building 'Golden' comes to mind as a highlight. All four instruments act as part of the melody, building up to a small peak before resolving into some free playing. Soon it becomes a duet between the vibes and bass, their conversation becomes more obscure, but captivating, only to soon be joined by the others and driving to a greater crescendo. Shelton solo is rather intense but always in control of the exuding passion.
The contrasting qualities of this album are what makes it so tantalizing. It's laid back, but aggressive, cool but passionate. Composed, arranged but free and unpretentious. There is not a dull or unimportant note or rest that is out of place on this edgy piece of modern jazz.