Chicago-based sax legend Fred Anderson and globetrotting drummer and percussionist Hamid Drake have collaborated many times over the last three decades. Their close relationship comes, in part, from a similar backgroundboth hail from the same small town of Monroe, Louisiana. They shared an almost familial relationship, with Drake beginning his career in his early teens by taking lessons with Anderson's son. On their new demonstration of this ongoing friendship, From The River To The Ocean, they continue to reaffirm and reconfirm the beautiful creative and mature musical bond that they've perfected over the years.
For this project Anderson and Drake drafted three fellow Chicagoans. Jeff Parker (guitar), Harrison Bankhead (bass/piano/cello) and Josh Abrams (bass/guimbri) all contribute to the cohesiveness of this release. Anderson and Drake lead this small outfit throughout five relaxed and varied tracks.
Anderson's searching and meditative tone opens the first swinging track, "Planet E." Written by Anderson, he soon lets Parker's well-crafted melodic lines take the lead. Bankhead, Abrams and Drake anchor the emphatic dialogue of Anderson and Parker into a light groove that always lets them soar over the solid, evolving rhythm.
A twenty-one minute version of Anderson's classic set-closing blues, "Strut Time," is up next. The airy arrangement ties Parker's sensitive guitar with Bankhead's cello. The steady pulse of Abrams' bass and the propulsive yet delicate drumming of Drake all inspire Anderson to spring into a brilliant and soulful set of solos. Parker's melodic solo mirrors Bankhead's well-accentuated cello solo, while Abrams sets a solid groove that introduces the rich vocabulary of Drake's drum solo before the quintet rejoins for a heartfelt coda of the theme.
Bankhead's "For Brother Thompson" is a brooding, modal tribute to the late trumpeter Malachi Thompson. Drake opens and closes the piece chanting a prayer for Allah in Arabic, playing the bells while Bankhead accompanies him on piano. Anderson joins with a meditative cry on the saxophone, and than Abrams adds warm and dark colors with his arco bass playing.
The title track, written by Abrams and Drake, features Abrams on the guimbri (a three-stringed Moroccan acoustic bass associated with the spiritual Gnawa tradition), and Drake on a frame drum. Both lay down a hypnotic tribal groove that challenges Parker to an inspired angular performance on the guitar, Bankhead a wise arco elaboration of the Mid-Eastern rhythm and Anderson another fine searching improvisation.
Abrams continues on the guimbri on the last track, "Sakti/Shiva," written by himself, Anderson and Drake. This short and balanced duet between the soulful and potent sax cries of Anderson and the fierce plucking of guimbri by Abrams sound as the perfect conclusion to this release, where modern Western blues finds common ground with ancient African blues.
The oceanic spiritual creativity of Anderson, Drake and their colleagues keeps the rivers and the seas flowing with joyful musicality. Warmly recommended.
Personnel: Fred Anderson: saxophone; Hamid Drake: drums (1,2,3), frame drum (4), vocal; Jeff Parker: guitar (1,2,4); Harrison Bankhead: cello (2), piano (3), bass (1,4); Josh Abrams: bass (1,2,3), guimbri (4,5).