Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake

From the River to the Ocean
Thrill Jockey thrill 183 (www.thrilljockey.com)

Schweizer-Anderson-Drake
Live Willisau & Taktlos
Intakt CD 104 (www.intaktrec.com)

Although recognition has only come to Chicago’s Fred Anderson during the past 15 years, his role as and co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM) and as mentor for tyro players sometimes obscures his lineage as an accomplished post-bop tenor saxophonist. From the River to the Ocean should rectify that.

Here, the melodic tone and idea flow from the saxophone of Anderson (born in 1929) directly relate to how John Coltrane (1926) and Sonny Rollins (1930) construct solos. Couple this with the unusual setting that frames the reedist on different tracks with Jeff Parker’s guitar; Harrison Bankhead’s bass, cello or piano; Josh Abrams’ bass or guimbri (Berber lute); and Hamid Drake’s regular kit or frame drum; and the CD should impress even those who dismiss Anderson as an unapproachable avant-gardist.

Drake, Anderson’s best-known protégé, totted his drums to Switzerland for festival gigs with percussive Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer, captured on Live Willisau & Taktlos. Schweizer, whose position vis-à-vis Euro-Improv is analogous to Anderson’s with the AACM, has recorded memorable duo discs with a clutch of international percussionists. Her experience with Drake is just as rewarding. As an added bonus, Anderson sits in on three of the four tracks. Energized by the surroundings his tight, sharp contributions are more abstract than those on From the River….

Rollins-like echoes are present on Live’s “Schwandrake”, with the saxophonist’s moderato patterns and runs referencing Newk’s past percussion discussions. This is especially clear when Schweizer’s internal string stopping and plucking complement Drake’s hand drum displays.

Even more impressive is the reed work on From the River’s “Planet E” and “Sakti/Shiva”. The later mixes spittle-encrusted reed cries with the guimbri’s bongo drum-like thumping to recall Rollins’ classic 1960s duets with bassist Bob Cranshaw. “Planet E” also references that era, not only in thick, rampaging bass chords and the drummer’s clattering cymbals, but also in the chiming, finger-picked licks from Parker, who almost channels Jim Hall.

Except for some scene-setting, diaphragm breaths behind Drake’s Arabic chanting, Anderson’s Trane schedule is more pronounced on the Swiss CD. What’s profoundly atypical on From The River however, is the cohesive arrangement of “Strut Time”, a blues that recalls Hall’s 1950s tenure in drummer Chico Hamilton’s minimalist quintet. Walking bass and drum shuffles linked to clean guitar finger-picking and bowed cello chords reinforce the message. But no one would confuse Anderson’s bluesy bellows with Buddy Collette’s Cool Jazz articulation in Hamilton’s combo.

Furthermore Anderson is completely himself on Live’s defining track, the almost 28½-minute “Trinity”. Lacerating split tones and nephritic honking energize his solo, which erupts after Schweizer’s conveyor belt of syncopated octave jumps and piles of clipped notes establish the tune’s parameters. Drake’s characteristic rhythmic invention almost wilts as his elders communicate fortissimo. Billowing glissandi plus focused needle-like jabs undulate from Schweizer’s fingers, as the saxophonist counters with rough-shod split tones. Eventually, the two connect as the pianist’s key ruffling settles into a near-groove and the saxophonist’s flutter tonguing accepts the underlying swing sensibility.

Relaxed and inventive in his duo with Schweizer’s hunt-and-peck rhythms and kinetic dynamics, Drake’s MVP status is confirmed on both discs. Overseas he seconds a first meeting between simpatico improvisers; in Chicago he helps pilot what could be the veteran saxophonist’s most passionate and personal statement.

— Ken Waxman

CODA Issue 334