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Kidd Jordan/Fred Anderson Quartet at Killian Hall, MIT 4/2/99

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Improvised music always is at its most exciting in a live setting. Of course the orthodox purists of free improvisation would argue that there is no point in "fixing" a musical improvisation by recording it. They might say that the stamping of a CD takes the life out of a performance. I would argue that while live improvisation can be much more involving, it's also nice to be able to hear creative musicians jam in your living room at your own convenience.

Eremite Records was on hand to document the recording of the Kidd Jordan/Fred Anderson quartet performance Friday night for inclusion in a planned multi-CD live set, only the second instance in recorded history where a gig I personally attended will end up available on a piece of aluminum—the first was Saturation Point, a fine record by Tim Berne's Bloodcount. I can tell you personally that it's especially satisfying to have digital documentation of a moving musical experience, so let's hope Eremite expedites the release of this one.

Kidd Jordan is an under-documented saxophonist who's played with everyone from Cecil Taylor to Aretha Franklin. Fred Anderson's involvement with Chicago's AACM school of improvisation dates back more than 30 years. The two have an understanding of free improvisation that can only be earned through experience. Their twin-tenor engine stood in front of the rhythm section of Chicago drummer Hamid Drake and New York bassist William Parker, who both qualify as masters in their own right.

Drake and Parker started the first set with some low-intensity percussive interplay before the horns stepped in: Jordan with a light, bird-like tone and Anderson with a more hard-edged, throaty sound. The improvisation that followed developed very spontaneously, trading between solo, duo, trio, and quartet arrangements. Melodic horn lines led to occasional screeching matches, only to erode into hard-galloping funk. Parker layed back for most of the performance, turning out polyrhythmic riffy looping basslines or scratching away at treble double stops. Amazingly, he even played a couple of things that sounded like they could have been walking basslines (but we'll have to wait for the record to be sure about that). Drake looked a little bored during the quiet passages—but when any high-intensity saxophone rampages got underway, he exploded into a flurry of propulsive motion.

In the second set of the performance, Alan Silva, a veteran who played bass with Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor, sat in on the piano. He pounced on the Steinway like a bird of prey, churning out pointed clusters and pithy runs. During this part of the performance Silva and Jordan traded several whimsical musical exchanges, performed without averting their eyes from each other's grinning faces. Either something happened over the break, or maybe Silva just pushed things to the top, but the intensity of the second set made the first one look like a warmup. All five players took the rhythmic and harmonic energy of the improvisation to a much higher level. By the conclusion of the performance, the players were panting and sweaty. The audience, consisting predominantly of long-haired intellectuals, was exhausted.

Personnel: Kidd Jordan: tenor sax; Fred Anderson: tenor sax; Alan Silva: piano; William Parker: bass; Hamid Drake: drums.


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