Aram Shelton Quartet
8 p.m. July 31 at Gumbo Ya Ya in the Bar Lexington complex, 367 E. Main. $5. (859) 523-9292.
What happens when a Fast Citizen decides to cool his stride a little? For tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Aram Shelton, that means working with bandmates in his former hometown while living at the opposite end of the country. It also means establishing fresh musical directions.
Let's rewind. Just before Christmas, Shelton — a veteran of vibrant Chicago jazz now living in Oakland, Calif. — was onstage at Gumbo Ya Ya with Fast Citizens. The group is an indie jazz collective centered in Chicago that shifts leadership roles with every album. Last winter was Shelton's turn as chief Fast Citizen.
Friendships new and old within the band, and the desire to attempt a performance project that was a touch smaller, led to the formation of the Aram Shelton Quartet. That lineup — Shelton, fellow Fast Citizens Keefe Jackson (tenor saxophone) and Anton Hatwich (bass), and Marc Riordan (who subbed for the band's usual drummer, Frank Rosaly, on last winter's tour) — plays Gumbo Ya Ya on Saturday night.
"We definitely have a friendship," Shelton said recently from his home in Oakland. "I think that's what's coming through musically. We're supporting each other. We've known each other for almost a decade. Even though we haven't lived in the same space for a few years now, it's still a classic case of picking up the conversation where you left off."
Such camaraderie carries over to These Times, the quartet's newly released debut recording. The album draws from the compositional strengths and improvisational invention of Fast Citizens, but it also opens up the music.
For example, a patient, almost hushed drum serenade from Riordan sets up the blue-tinged Relief, and the minute-long blast of solo bass bliss by Hatwich on Rise and Set sets up a contemplative Coltrane-like mood. Especially telling, though, is the animated harmony that ignites Rings and An Interrupted Stroll when Shelton and Jackson play off each other.
"I never really enjoyed playing with other saxophonists much," Shelton said. "I always thought that was doing too much of the same thing. In a small group, a quartet, it seemed a little redundant. But in this group, it's really fun to play with Keefe. Our styles complement each other because we're different."
One thing that hasn't changed from Fast Citizens is the challenge presented when a band chieftain lives in one city while the rest of the group resides in another. Shelton said a little prioritizing keeps an ensemble spirit vital and alive with his Chicago mates.
"Whenever I'm in Chicago, I'm just a lot more focused. I can block out the other distractions. When you live in the same city as everyone else in your band, things can kind of get pushed off to the side. The good thing about doing the project from a distance, I guess, is that it's a lot more focused. There is an urgency that can really push you along."
Great Americana song stylist Chuck Prophet, whose springtime concert at Cosmic Charlie's stands as one of the most seriously rocking performances this year, is back in town Sunday. This time, Prophet brings the songs from his extraordinary 2009 album Let Freedom Ring and more to the intimate Natasha's Bistro, 112 Esplanade (8 p.m., $12). Call (859) 259-2754 or go to www.beetnik.com. Consider this one a must-see.