|Recorded January 26 and August 3-4, 2003 at Acme Studios and 2020, in Chicago.
We're now five years or so into the laptop era of improvised music, during which ever greater numbers of players have attempted to incorporate electronic elements into their improv work. Some use a computer as an extra tone source, setting a preprogrammed pattern of notes in motion, then picking up another instrument and playing along; some perform in teams in which one player's output is electronically augmented or manipulated by another. Since forming the duo Grey Ghost in early 2002, reedist-laptopper Aram Shelton and drummer-keyboardist Johnathan Crawford have been developing their own methodology; listening to their debut album, How to Create Words (482 Music), it's clear they're onto something. Through his work in groups like Dragons 1976, Arrive, and Rapid Croche, Shelton has established himself as one of the finest young saxophonists in town--his tart alto tone and melodic generosity show strong signs of Ornette Coleman's influence--and the organic-feeling synthesis of horn and laptop he's created here is testament to his abilities as both composer and improviser. While Shelton occasionally uses computer-generated bass lines as structural nuggets to improvise around, a la Chicago Underground Duo, most of the sonic elements in play come from terse samples of his own saxophone. On a track like "Spitzacolli" he starts with a succession of breathy alto licks, samples them in real time, and tweaks the samples on his computer until they fit together in an endless self-reflecting grid; then Crawford snaps out of a gentle cymbal wash into a hard-hitting circular groove and Shelton solos over the hall-of-mirrors framework. The sax samples on "Hand Down" are percussive pops and harmonic squeaks repeated ad infinitum while Crawford taps out a spare, stuttering beat, giving Shelton plenty of room for a moody solo, while "Unheard, Other Bands Practice" is a loose assemblage of percussive clatter, dyspeptic melodica puffs, striated columns of breath, and bell-like electronic tones.
- Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader "Critic's Choice"
Grey Ghost is a duo project. Shelton’s breathy a cappella saxophone opens “Spitzacolli” with a fragmented minimalist motif that gradually evolves into double tracked lines that transform Crawford’s simmering cymbals into a driving groove. Still the multiplication of Shelton’s simple lines does grow rather muddy at times. There is also a tendency for this duo to get stuck in a dirge mode; after the comparative drama and outburst of the opening track, the ensuing “Splendor,” “Horns and Organ,” “Hand Down” and “When You Say Go, Leave” sustain a static ambiance. That is a great pity as further listening reveals this to be an uncharitable view of the duo’s monotony of form. Consider how the computer distortions that introduce “When You Say Go, Leave” adorn an average sounding mid-tempo jam on tenor sax and drums with the sound of surprise. Similarly the shimmering accretions of the atmospheric “Command Control” and the animated stasis of “Spool” demonstrate why the second half of this project is consistently worth repeated hearing. That’s never more evident than during the spectral minimalism of “Unheard, Other Bands Practice” evoked by Shelton’s droll clarinet and Crawford’s melodica and curt percussion. In other words this project is a bit slow to get going but if you find that the brief drone hook of the second track “Splendor” intrigues you (as this lasts under three minutes it’s only a foretaste of this duo’s more protracted process) be assured that by the end of the sonic journey you will have found this one to have been well worth the musical ride.