Aerial, a quartet that won strong critical aclaim as well as first place for small combo at the second annual Women's Jazz Festival in Kansas City this year, opened last night at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis.

On "Killer Joe," pianist Nia Sheldon, the group's leader, strung out long inventive lines full of harmonic contrasts. Beneath Barbara London's flute her right hand punched up strikingly apt interpolations, while her left maintained a swinging percussive attack. "Dindi" provided an opportunity to display her scatting talents.

The foursome's familiarity with the bebop tradition came across strongly on Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" and Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce" and "Yardbird Suite." The one Parker tune featured the flute, the other London's voice, an instructive juxtaposition, for there is a one-to-one relationship between her instrumental voicings and her vocalese. Her own compositon, "Superfluity," was suitably named -- it showed off her legato as well as an occasional telling vibrato.

Drummer Dottie Dodgion, who had provided rhythmic support for some of the giants, including Charles Mingus, Benny Goodman, and Wild Bill Davison, was a faultless timekeeper throughout the set.

Carline Ray on electric bass added a startlingly different dimension to the group when her trained contralto voice dealt with songs such as "Someone To Watch Over Me."

Aerial remains at the Maryland Inn through Sunday.