With no chording piano or guitar to clutter things up, horn-bass-drum trios are ready-made for unfettered blowing: think Albert Ayler's trio circa '64. But they also tend to create sturdy structural foundations to compensate for the stripped-down resources--witness Sonny Rollins's suddenly much-revived 1958 "Freedom Suite," where simple themes give the players a strong rhythmic trajectory. These days Dutch saxophonist Ab Baars's trio is a model of such conceptual clarity; so is the newish Dragons 1976, which consists of several of the brighter bulbs among Chicago's younger north-side improvisers: alto saxophonist Aram Shelton, drummer Tim Daisy, and bassist Jason Ajemian. (All were born in '76, the Chinese Year of the Dragon.) On a four-song demo recorded live in June, every piece isolates a specific tactic or area of play, making for a varied and easily digestible program. "Don't Call Back" has the integrity of a good pop head, every instrument a leg of the tripod. "Slowly in the Snow" is defined by a glacial wash of resounding cymbals, but there's a lot of detail under the surface. Spare comments from popping bass add just enough contrast and harmonic motion, as Shelton progresses from long tones to a mournful melody heard as if from a distance. Daisy's got a springy feel for time and an alert mind, and he gets a lively sound from his traps. He makes you want to listen to the drums, reason enough for his frequent placement at the center of the action. His swing-and-shuffle brush work lifts "The Way It Is" with perky eighth notes, as Ajemian carefully chooses his plump bass lines below. Ringleader Shelton's tunes are plain, but they stick in the ear. His alto lines have vocal qualities--they're almost squawky once or twice--and his tone, which avoids extremes, and his vibrato, which is nearly absent, display an engaging self-effacement. He doesn't sound at all like Lee Konitz, but displays a similar reticence to shout at you. Wednesday, October 23, 10 PM, Gallery Cabaret, 2020 N. Oakley; 773-489-5471.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.