Music News & Reviews

Fast Citizens rotates its sound leadership

Aram Shelton's Fast Citizens

7:30 p.m. Dec. 19 at Gumbo Ya Ya at Bar Lexington, 367 E. Main. $5.

The nearly clichéd axiom of "follow the leader" has long been an accepted band practice in jazz, even though the music almost always depends on the improvisatory input of each player.

But imagine the creative possibilities if, on each successive recording and tour, a band could rotate the role of leader.

That's the working game plan for Fast Citizens, the Chicago jazz collective that helps the Outside the Spotlight series of improvisational and free jazz concerts celebrate its seventh anniversary Saturday at Gumbo Ya Ya in the new Bar Lexington complex (aka the old A1A).

At its last Lexington performance, the band was known as Keefe Jackson's Fast Citizens, after its tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist. Similarly, the music performed at the since-defunct Icehouse after the release of a 2006 Delmark recording, Ready Everyday, spotlighted a roster of expert improvisers, all of whom have been regular OTS guests — alto saxophonist Aram Shelton, cornet player Josh Berman, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, bassist Anton Hatwich and drummer Frank Rosaly.

The lineup is the same on the fine new album Two Cities. But the band name reflects its newest leader: Aram Shelton's Fast Citizens.

"We were talking around the time that we did that last tour about how we all contribute to the group, all the musicians in the band," Shelton said. "So we decided to try this idea of rotating the leader chair. That person would write the majority of the music for the album. Other members could still contribute. But the leader would also be the point person for getting the word out about the music, arranging concerts, things like that."

There remains on Two Cities a spaciousness that made Ready Everyday so appealing. But one of Shelton's desires on the recording — named for the fact that he moved several years ago to Oakland, Calif., but retains strong artistic ties with his Chicago mates — was to take advantage of the band's various instrumental combinations.

Two Cities' title tune, for instance, quickly trims down to explore harmony and improvisational exchanges among alto sax, cello and drums. The entire band later pumps up shards of swing behind a potent tenor sax charge from Jackson before conversations between drums and cornet bring about the tune's bright ensemble finish.

"I made it a point on different songs to put these pairings in there so that I could hear these three people together or those two people together. These were maybe pairings I didn't hear as much when it was Keefe's group or on tunes Keefe had written for the first album. So that was something I focused on, that different kind of dynamic."

Only Rosaly will be absent from the current Fast Citizens tour. Having performed in Lexington last weekend with saxophonist Dave Rempis (see The Week That Was, right), Rosaly is touring this weekend with cellist Daniel Levin. Chicago drummer Marc Riordan will take his place.

"I get to give my viewpoint of the band this time," Shelton said. "Next time, maybe Josh or Fred will be the leader, and they will have a very different viewpoint. So it's a good thing. I just hope we can move along a bit faster now than one album every three years."

Back in the saddle

One of Lexington's finest concert traditions is the annual yuletide return of Riders in the Sky, billed as "America's favorite singing cowboys." The quartet revisits The Kentucky Theatre on Monday for its last show before heading back to the corral for Christmas. Riders ringleader Ranger Doug checks in with us in Sunday's Life + Arts section to preview the performance. (7 p.m.; $14.50, $18.50; (859) 231-7924.