Duets 2001
Thrill Jockey Thrill 101

Refutation of the hoary cliché that jazz is a young man's art happened a generation ago when Swing and Bop era giants like Coleman Hawkins, Pee Wee Russell and Dizzy Gillespie routinely turned out masterpieces in their fifties and sixties.

When many of the initial Free Jazz players reached senior citizen's status recently, the foolishness — not to mention the sexism — of that statement was brought into bolder relief. Steve Lacy, a sprightly 67, has insisted that "free jazz keeps you young". And certainly pioneers like Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, Derek Bailey and the musicians featured here have shown that major musical statements can be made past some folks' 70th birthday.

Tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson, 72, has been recording more in the past decade than anytime before, for the simple reason that his playing is getting better and better. Fellow Chicagoan Robert Barry is less celebrated. But, the uninitiated hearing his drum inventions for the fist time may not guess his earlier notoriety came from powering the original Sun Ra Orchestra in the Windy City way back during the mid-1950s.

Although they moved in similar circles, this recording was only the second time Anderson and Barry played together. You'd never know it, there's no hesitation and no roughness. The two just set up on stage in front of an exceedingly quiet, but ultimately appreciative audience, play all out for 53 minutes plus, and go home. That the music is uniformly excellent is no surprise. Anderson, especially, seems incapable of creating any other kind.

Faintly reminiscent of Sonny Rollins at his most focused, the saxophonist bends over in his characteristic crouch and sprays out sharp stalagmites of notes. No blustery blower, his solos are made up of limitless tones, as notes arrive one at a time. Individually shaped, weighed and displayed, he examines each of their properties and then passes on to the next one. A solo is worked to its conclusion and then he stops, acknowledges applause and starts again.

Working with his idiosyncratic tiny kit, Barry maintains the sort of nimble, swinging pulse you'd expect from a man who was one Chicago most in-demand drummers for nearly 50 years. Busy, but not showy, the only time Barry's drum sound is in any way different comes on "Taps". There he begins the number by concentrating on the snare, working it like a metallic conga. Throughout, the two instruments intertwine like lovers who achieve satisfaction simultaneously.

Truth in packaging note: Although the CD is entitled DUETS 2001 and Anderson and Barry are pictured in the booklet posed in front of the distinctive wallpaper of the saxophonist's South Side club, The Velvet Lounge, the session was actually recorded in 1999 at the Empty Bottle on the North Side.

Little matter, it couldn't be improved upon in any other location.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Bouncing 2. Speed Way 3. Taps 4. Off Blue 5. We 6. Dark Day

Personnel: Fred Anderson (tenor saxophone); Robert Barry (drums)