Fred Anderson: Staying in the Game (2009)
Tenor saxophone veteran Fred Anderson has remained a fixture on the free jazz scene since his co-founding of the AACM. Seemingly never inactive, Anderson follows up the critically acclaimed quintet album From the River to the Ocean (Thrill Jockey, 2007) with a more intimate trio outing. Featuring the previous album's bassist, Harrison Bankhead, alongside drummer Tim Daisy, the album is a true showcase for Anderson and the supple rhythm section backing him.
Opening with the lengthy "Sunday Afternoon," things start with a jump as Daisy and Bankhead lie a solid backing to Anderson's snaking and relaxed melody line that would fit nicely into Monk's compositional output. Never veering too far from its groundwork, the piece is a subtle and professionally performed excursion that well maintains its interest throughout its twenty four minutes, changing tempos, loosening and tightening its grasp, and exploring the outer bounds of its harmonic capacities.
Following that piece is the equally exhilarating "The Elephant and the Bee." With Bankhead bowing a thick and richly colored bass line, Anderson recites a dirge-like theme, his gutteral tone at once pulling from John Coltrane's spiritual weight, Ornette Coleman's rhythmic dexterity, and Gato Barbieri's diverse tonal range.
Given such a small group, the unit is able to truly move as one, gliding along with immediate reaction to one another. "60 Degrees in November" and the aptly titled "Wandering" both display this ability, the previous driving itself with consistent momentum while the latter, opening with an uncredited thumb piano, meanders along gently, nearly dancing its way along the floor.
"Springing Winter" and the closing "Changes and Bodies and Tones" finish the album with an impressive one-two punch. While the fifth track presents a nearly militaristic melody line, bending it in Aylerian fashion until it is abstracted and angular, the closer, beginning with an impressive solo by Daisy that mounts tension until Bankhead's dramatic bowed lines slash about, scraping their way across the backbeat until Anderson's soothing, broad horn emerges once more. It's a fitting entrance for an artist who, at over 80 years of age, continues to broaden his approach and push himself forward with unrelenting passion.
Track Listing: Sunday Afternoon; The Elephant and the Bee; 60 Degrees in November; Wandering; Springing Winter; Changes and Bodies and Tones.
Personnel: Fred Anderson: tenor saxophone; Harrison Bankhead: bass; Tim Daisy: drums.