Fred Anderson is one of today's most powerful and singular saxophonists. Recorded in 1993, this trio (with bassist Malachi Favors and drummer Ajaramuaka AJ Sheltonwho have both since passed away) flies blissfully to new heights for piano-less sax trios. To call Anderson a member of the free jazz movement produces an incomplete picture. His technical facility and penchant for swinging is more influenced by Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Charlie Parker. Even an unaccompanied solo homage, "Ode To Clifford Jordan," links to swing while also delving into motific development and the total range of the tenor sax: clear low notes at the bottom register to improbably high altissimo notes perfectly in tune.
"Malachi's Tune" starts, appropriately enough, with Favors laying down a swinging groove with a beautifully spirit-lifting tinge of New Orleans second-line march. Anderson soars and swoops through the bouncy rhythm section, sometimes riffing à la the Basie band, other times with the speed and accuracy of John Coltrane or Johnny Griffin. Ajaramu's drumming is interesting, unique, perhaps closer to Ed Blackwell than Jimmy Cobb but he is his own mana firestoker, sensitive accompanist and creative soloist. "Our Theme" begins with a drum solo that lures listeners in with its mysterious, spacious feel. When Favors enters the temperature increases and then Anderson's arrival turns the tune into a burning comet. Lest it be thought that this piece is out of control, Anderson leads the trio through a short, snappy coda that demonstrates the perfect musical chemistry and sympathy between the three musicians.
"Wandering," "Saxoon" and "Bernice" feature yearning, languid melodies and gorgeous writing where bass plays more of a second horn role. "Saxoon" might have the deepest solo from the leader, running the gamut from lyric to fierce, riffing to explosive, controlled swinging to super-fast flurries of notes. This trio produced a masterpiece over 15 years ago. For those interested in investigating Anderson's great playing and original compositions, Black Horn Long Gone is an outstanding place to start.
Wandering; Our Theme; Saxoon; Three on Two; Bernice; The Strut Time; Malachi's Tune; Ode to Clifford Jordan.
Fred Anderson: tenor saxophone; Malachi Favors Maghoustut: acoustic bass; Ajaramu (AJ Shelton): drums.