Delmark has some explaining to do. Why it’s taken them nearly four decades to record and release Fred Anderson’s debut for the label is a mystery crying out for clarification. Fred, also affectionately known as The Lone Prophet of the Prairie, was a dynamic cog in the bands the comprised Joseph Jarman’s dual efforts for the Delmark at the close of the Sixties. Both Song For and As If It Were the Seasons stand as early classics of the then nascent AACM, but for some reason Fred wasn’t able to parlay his role on these records into a recording contract of his own. As the saying goes, “better late than never” and this upcoming release from Delmark attempts to shore up a long-standing lapse in judgment that’s had many followers of Chicago-born jazz scratching their heads.
An early press release for the disc touted the presence of debut compositions from the Fred Anderson songbook. This is true in the sense that every piece is a new creation thanks to the trio’s healthy reliance on and mastery of collective improvisation, but Fred’s bag of stock melodic hooks take their usual place in directing trio traffic. Aoki fits Fred’s on-the-fly framework like a glove. Maven of the relentless (and at times impervious) ostinato his rhythmic riffs ground the group in an undulating groove. Regrettably there are also moments, as in the final minutes of the title track, where his vacillating vamps wear out their welcome and cause cohesion between the three players to falter into the fringes of noodling. Fred is quick to pick up on these embryonic lapses and usually reels things back to focus with a choicely placed stream of fluttering magnetic notes.
Drake is Anderson’s longtime alter ego behind on the drum kit. Nurturing a musical bond that traces back to the drummer’s youth the pair harbor a paternal musical relationship that borders on the near telepathic when they share the stage. Shifting from toms to snare to cymbals with equal parts precision and passion Drake maintains momentum, often without explicitly stating a strict rhythmic pulse. His pan-directional stick work on “Smooth Velvet” is one such occasion where as a listener the exhilarating effect of his polyrhythms is much like being safely propelled down a chute of frothing rapids. Later in the piece he works his ride cymbal and toms in a staggering syncopated flurry that works at the hinges of audience jaws in a goading effort to get them to drop. Switching to frame drum for the opening portion of “Tatsu’s Groove” his efforts are no less impressive even when limited to a single resonating membrane of skin.
Other aural documents of Fred’s weekly Velvet Lounge schooling sessions exist ( Live at the Velvet Lounge, Volumes 1 & 2 on Asian Improv to name a few), but Delmark’s date is the first to feature his working trio with Aoki and Drake. The label may have been remiss in its failure to record him at earlier opportunities, but given the financial realities of jazz it’s tough to point accusative fingers with a clear conscience. What matters most is that the dearth has ended and Fred is finally a member of one of Chicago’s most venerable label rosters. The proof of his long deserved place is evident here for all those willing to listen.
Delmark on the web: http://www.delmark.com