October 31, 2000
Live at the Velvet Lounge Volume Two
Asian Improv Records AIR 0054
If there's a prime example of the adage "good things come to those who wait", it's veteran Chicago tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson. One of the founders of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in 1965, he spent most of the subsequent 25 years close to home, being fitfully recorded, but still training a gang of younger creative musicians, most prominently trombonist George Lewis and multi-instrumentalist Douglas Ewart.
Within the past decade, however, the man once dubbed the "lone prophet of the Prairies" has come into his own. Regularly touring North America and Europe, he's also been showcased on nearly a dozen CDs, including this exemplary two-CD set recorded live at his home base.
A grungy, miniature bar on Chi-Town's near South Side, the club which Anderson owns, manages, plays in and at which he sometimes bartends, would never be mistaken for Carnegie Hall. But it's here, against the backdrop of the faded flowered and striped wallpaper that the newest AACM generation hones its chops.
Confirming once again the AACM's ideals which encourage sitting in and different combination of musicians, the personnel of Anderson's quartet has altered from that heard on an earlier superb club session LIVE AT THE VELVET LOUNGE VOLUME ONE (Asian Improv). Powerhouse bassist Tatsu Aoki is still on board, but this group is filled out by drummer Hamid Drake, who performs with everyone from lung-bursting German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann to MacArthur fellow Ken Vandermark, plus guitarist Jeff Parker, a charter member of post-rock bands Isotope 217 and Tortoise.
Recorded "during 1999 season", the all original music is classic jam session fare with the shortest tune clocking in at a little more than 12 minutes and two others, 37 plus and 34 plus minutes each. What this does is allow the musicians space to let loose.
Anderson dominates by example. With a powerful as a weightlifter's tone that belies his 71 years, he also has a supply of ideas so seemingly limitless that on the aptly named "Jeff's Turnaround" the tenor saxophonist forces Parker up a new melodic path to escape his influence. Anderson then comes back stronger than before to engage in a Latin-tinged duet with the guitarist, matching him bar for bar and note for note. Other times the Anderson sound can be as light as an alto's as it glides over the rhythm section
No rocker here, Parker sticks pretty much to single-string shading, proving once again that most styles don't faze AACMers. On "Road Trip", for instance, when he's not comping, his logical solo construction would mark him as a harder-edged, blusey bopper in another context.
Drake's skill is such that he can sound like the most conventional — but exceptional — jazz drummer going or change the mood with exotic percussion. Investigate his protracted traps workout on "Look Out", for instance, where outside of the pile driver power, nothing would frighten a Buddy Rich fan. Then contrast it with the novel accents he coaxes out of his hand-stroked African percussion on "Exotic Dreams". At that time the strings respond with blurred Middle Eastern-like motifs to cement the mood.
Aoki provides the bottom throughout. Dramatically ingenious on all part of the bass if the occasion warrants it, he stays true to his designated role as house timekeeper here after years at Anderson's side.
Like many live sessions there are occasional imperfections in the on-location sound, with a slight logginess the beginning of one track, and another point where Anderson begins a solo before he's fully on mike.
Still these missteps can be overlooked when considering the whole picture. In essence what you have here is an aural picture of a couple of excellent sets at The Velvet Lounge. It's as close as a unique Chicago experience you can get without being there. Savor the disc and don't stint on a visit either.
- Track Listing: Disc 1: 1. Look Out! 2. Road Trip 3. Tomato Song ; Disc 2: 1. December 4th 2. Exotic Dreams 3. Jeff's Turnaround
Personnel: Fred Anderson (tenor saxophone); Jeff Parker (guitar); Tatsu Aoki (bass); Hamid Drake (drums, percussion)