At 74, Fred Anderson reasserts his royalty on the tenor saxophone with Back at the Velvet Lounge recorded live at Anderson's club. If anyone plays free-bop, it's Anderson. With Anderson, an athletic technique marries a fountain of melody. While Fred's more closely associated with the avant-garde, Johnny Griffin and Gene Ammons look over his shoulder now and then. His reluctance to tour may blunt his name brand recognition, but his influence over the last 40 years in Chicago reaches through many younger players, from Roscoe Mitchell to Ken Vandermark. Affirming his reputation as a powerful hard blowing musician, these tracks also show Anderson with various configurations in unexpected settings.
Drummer Chad Taylor skips on the snare to open Fougeux. With Bankhead pulling for his life, Anderson flares two fireball solos. He unleashes a vital torrent of song over Taylor's fast dancing drumsticks. Many sax slingers would be hospitalized playing his second solo on "Fougeux, let alone his first. The recording also features the debut of trumpeter Maurice Brown. Brown's played the Velvet since high school, so he brings a great playing rapport with Anderson, and a highly original voice. He blows a whirlwind of music between Anderson's car chasing expositions, moving easily from the sweet to the raw and back. Taylor keeps it fast and slippery in the cymbals with Harrison Bankhead's double time pluck on bass.
Anderson's musing solo intro to "Olivia, opens outward and becomes more strident with the addition of Bankhead, Taylor, and Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker. While the trio plays slow and atmospherically, Anderson sails through hair-raising runs. Parker plays a gossamer-chorded solo. Bankhead moves to acoustic guitar for "Job Market Blues. His ringing glissandos and Taylor's rolling beat give the piece an exotic folk feel. Anderson makes himself at home playing staggering lines off Tatsu Aoki's ironic bass line.
"Syene brings Brown back to spar with Anderson during the spacious introduction. The trumpet player takes a jagged charge at the changes, ending reflectively making way for Anderson. Fred runs glistening variations over the thoughtful rhythm section with Brown adding bits of color. "King Fish, has Brown and Anderson playing loose unison, before Anderson punches up the abrupt funk brewing in the rhythm section. Brown pricks the beat to aggressive straight ahead. Aoki walks with Taylor and Anderson rains variations without loosing the blues.
Live at the Velvet Lounge gives non-locals a tantalizing glimpse at one of Second City's most valuable resources.
Personnel: Fred Anderson: tenor sax; Maurice Brown: trumpet; Jeff Parker: guitar; Harrison Bankhead: acoustic guitar, bass; Tatsu Aoki: bass; Chad Taylor: drums.