Expanding on a musical relationship that stretches over thirty years, From the River to the Ocean finds tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson and drummer Hamid Drake, joined by three fellow Chicagoans, in a carefree mood. Guitarist Jeff Parker and bassists Harrison Bankhead and Josh Abrams join the duo on a lively set that encapsulates the highly conversational nature of today's best avant-garde jazz hailing from the Windy City.
Anderson and Drake's previous album on Thrill Jockey, 2004's Back Together Again, documented their first studio collaboration. Bolstered by tight, intuitive ensemble interplay, this set embellishes their core sound, while maintaining the effortless delivery of their previous session.
As founder of the Velvet Lounge and a charter member of the AACM, Anderson has attained iconic status in the Chicago jazz scene. His angular yet lyrical tenor phrasing is instantly recognizable, whether spiraling out barbed ribbons of notes or easing back with soulful restraint. When supported by Drake's flowing, polyrhythmic grooves, they make a sublime pair.
With Jeff Parker's postmodern versatility and the superlative bass work of Bankhead and Abrams (who both double on extra instruments), the ensemble sets forth with a broad palette of sound at its disposal. Over five lengthy pieces, the quartet spans a vast expanse of genres and styles. "Planet E" is an Afrobeat-influenced post bop burner, complete with a coiling guitar solo from Parker that complements Anderson's stout tenor, culminating in an effusive three-way dialogue between Abrams, Bankhead and Drake. "Strut Time" is an epic surging blues, with lengthy solo excursions from all players while spotlighting Anderson's gruff, emotive lyricism.
The impressionistic modal journey of "For Brother Thompson" (dedicated to the late trumpeter Malachi Thompson) recalls the emotional power of late-period Coltrane; Bankhead's ominous piano chords and Drake's Arabic chanting resonate over a rubato groove.
The exotic title track and "Shakti/Shiva" both feature Abrams' hypnotic, sinewy guimbiri (a bass-like North African lute). On the former, Parker hammers out kaleidoscopic shards, Bankhead bows his strings with tenacious resolve, and Drake delivers a steady frame drum pulse, weaving an intricate harmonic tapestry for Anderson's brawny tenor sax testimonials.
The resonant, mature beauty found on From the River to the Ocean proves that contemporary free jazz doesn't always have to burn white-hot to generate emotional heat; simmering intensity can yield the same results.
Personnel: Fred Anderson: tenor saxophone; Hamid Drake: drums, frame drum (4); Jeff Parker: guitar (1,2,4); Harrison
Bankhead: cello (2), piano (3), bass (1,4); Josh Abrams: bass (1-3), guimbiri (4,5).