Monday, November 2, 2009

Fred Anderson Celebrates 80th with CD and DVD

Free Jazz Tenorman Fred Anderson has been a mainstay of the Chicago music world since the '60s. A founding member of the AACM, he has been on numerous recordings and has held sway at the head of a variety of bands at his own Velvet Lounge (and all over the world too).

This year he turned 80. That in itself is not particularly remarkable. Of course other people do this all the time. What is important is his playing. It is the fiery blast of tenorism that it was when he first came up, only it's tempered by years of interacting on the bandstand. It's better than ever in many ways.

In March of this year, Delmark set up their recording equipment at the Velvet Lounge to record the birthday celebration. A CD and DVD came out of this, 21st Century Chase, and it is a fine example of what a well attuned ensemble can achieve when left to their own resources.

First, the band. Of course there is Fred on the tenor, joined by co-vet tenorist Kidd Jordan. Anderson and Kidd are in great form and the two together provide powerfully moving interactions that rival some of the classic tandems of recent jazz history. Harrison Bankhead provides an infinity varied and powerful bass ground for it all. He shows how important imagination and technique can be in the free blowing situation. Jeff Parker, increasingly well known as a guitarist of choice in the Chicago avant world, provides contrast and intelligence in his understated comps and delightfully enigmatic soloing. And Chad Taylor swings and pummels like a human drumming dynamo.

The sound is pristine and well balanced, and the DVD gives you the option of a surround sound version. Three long improvisations comprise the set (with a bonus track on the DVD that brings in the comeback bassist Henry Grimes while Bankhead switches to cello). It is music that goes around more than one block. They get into a number of compelling free grooves. The DVD is visually interesting and reproduces the club atmosphere and the excitement of in-the-moment spontaneity.

Either way, CD or DVD, there is much excellence. It is a fitting tribute to a tenor titan that has not always received the recognition he deserves. Happy 80th Fred Anderson!

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