July 22, 2000
The Milwaukee Tapes Vol. 1
Atavistic/Unheard Music Series UMS/ALP 204 CD
If there's a trajectory that bisects the career of Chicago tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson it's the year 1993. Since that time there have been two or more CDs a year to trace the evolution of the 70-year-old AACM veteran as his fame spreads beyond the Windy City. Before that, there were only one or two scattered documents available of the playing of the brawny stylist once characterized as the "lone prophet of the Prairies" — including his recording debut on Joseph Jarman's "Song For" in 1966.
Now thanks to Atavistic's Unheard Music Series, a prime cut of vintage Anderson circa 1980 has surfaced. The biggest surprise about it is no surprise. At that time Anderson was working with Brimfield and Drake two of the men he still works with today, and his playing was as accomplished then as it is today.
This isn't damning the man with faint praise, either. For anyone who has seen (or heard) Anderson improvise, will know that he puts a lie to the cliché that jazz is a young man's art. "The Bull" may be the title of one of tunes here, and it could describe the solid Anderson who forged ahead with his own vision of jazz for years even if it meant he had to work at non-musical jobs and face critical indifference.
Look at this CD, however for an example of his art. On "A Ballad For Rita," for instance, he goes it alone for nearly the entire 17 minutes of the tune and he's as impressively inventive as he's volcanic. In the background, Drake, who since then has put in time with the likes of Pharaoh Sanders and Peter Brötzmann, keeps the rhythm boiling with different percussion nuances. And that's only the first track.
Listen to "The Bull" for another idea of how this quartet worked. Brimfield, who has spent years as a faithful Tonto to Anderson's Lone Ranger, turns in a dignified, yet constantly swinging, long-lined solo. Even lesser known than Anderson, the trumpeter is the connection between 1950s hard bop and the ACCM. Yet he's never recorded a session under his own name, at a time when any neo-con with a suit and a music degree can get a multi-year contract.
Looking for a change of pace? Then follow Drake's tabla pulse on "Bombay" previewing the sort of hand drumming he would use to greater effect in the years to come with bands like the cooperative DKV trio.
Even Hayrod, who spent only two years in the Anderson orbit and who seems to have disappeared since then, is a solid, unshowy timekeeper. He keeps the rhythm going throughout the date, letting the others excel in the front line.
THE MILWAUKEE TAPES is a valuable addition to the Anderson canon, recorded during what had been his undocumented period of 15 years. It also proves that there was a heck of a lot more going on in jazz at the cusp of the 1980s than the flaccid fusion and groping bop-by-the-numbers retreads that were released at that time.
And it makes you anxious to see what other unexpected gems will be unearthed on the promised second volume of this session.
Track Listing: 1. A Ballad For Rita 2. The Bull 3. Black Woman 4. Bombay (Children of Cambodia) ; 5. Planet E
Personnel; Billy Brimfield (trumpet); Fred Anderson (tenor saxophone); Larry Hayrod (bass); Hamid Drake (drums, tablas)