Chris Anderson is one of the unsung heroes of modern jazz piano. A revered figure among musicians, largely for his role as mentor to a young Herbie Hancock, Anderson has long been hindered by illness from aggressively pursuing his rightful place in the jazz limelight. As Charlie Haden poignantly states in the album's liner notes, "Chris is risking his life with every chord, that's how much it means to him." Although he has performed with everyone from Charlie Parker to Sun Ra over the course of his lengthy career, Anderson remains mostly unknown even to serious jazz fans. One hopes that this outstanding new duo effort with bass master Haden on the British Naim label helps to earn him some richly deserved acclaim.
A Chicago native reared on the blues and the music of Nat King Cole, Art Tatum, and Duke Ellington, Anderson years ago developed a rich harmonic sensibility influenced by European classical composers like Ravel and Debussy. His playing remains moody, quiet, and impressionistic, built on chordal improvisation rather than speedy right-hand runs, yet he never strays too far from his blues roots.
The album's song selection leans towards familiar ballad chestnuts like "Alone Together," "It Never Entered My Mind," and "Body and Soul." Anderson takes his time with these old tunes, focusing on tonality and harmony, to reveal all their melancholy spirit and beauty. And on the album's final two cuts, an original blues and a stirring take on the old Billie Holiday standard "Good Morning Heartache," he shows that for all his harmonic sophistication he can still get down with some old-fashioned barrelhouse blues piano.
Haden's accompaniment is sympathetic, never obtrusive, and always right on the money. Clearly this is a bassist who listens and who knows that less is often more. But Anderson is the star here, and one deserving the respect and admiration of every jazz fan.