The Fred Anderson love-fest continues, and I, for one, am pleased to be onboard. The seventy-something tenor saxophonist seems to get better and better with each release. A veteran of the Chicago jazz scene, and a founding member of the AACM, Anderson has played with everyone from Charlie Parker to Ken Vandermark. While early inspiration may have been Lester Young, he has taken the freedom principles of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane into his blues-inflected Chicago sound.
Anderson teams up with drummer Robert Barry, who began playing jazz in the late 1940s and has held the drum chair in Chicago for the likes of Miles Davis, Gene Ammons, and Johnny Griffin. For nearly 30 years he was a member of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, and was recently featured on Ken Vandermark’s Sound Action Trio recording Design In Time (Delmark 1999).
On this live date at Chicago’s Empty Bottle in May 1999, Anderson blows straight out of the beefy Chicago tenor tradition with all the blues inflection and attention to rhythm his big shoulders can bear. While this session is billed as an improvising occasion, the duo is anything but loose and no musical idea finds a dead end. It seems that for every action one player takes, there is the positive reaction by the other. The obvious comparison to be made here is to that of Sonny Rollins’ 1957 Village Vanguard date with Elvin Jones. Like Rollins, Fred Anderson has a romantic space in his heart for melody and beautiful music. And like Jones, Robert Barry handles himself with a powerful physical presence yet is a master of shading. On “Taps,” Barry’s hand-drumming opens and one expects “Softly As A Morning Sunrise,” but gets an even gentler sound. Rarely has this combination (saxophone and drums) produced such a dignified sound. Even the largeness of “Off Blue,” a ‘Goin’ to Chicago’ blues anthem, doesn’t pass from high-art to the cliched bar honking mode. The pair gives us a recording certain to be on many top ten lists by year’s end.