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Fred Anderson/Hamid Drake/William Parker: Blue Winter

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This record is a joy. A surprise it isn't. These three men have overlapping histories of development and collaboration of such depth that when they convene nowadays, the results are always inspired. One of Hamid Drake's early mentors was AACM mainstay Fred Anderson, who decided to stay home in Chicago, tend bar, and keep his connections to the muse wide open. Later, Drake connected up with William Parker, and they've played on dozens of excellent records over the past few years.

One of the delights Blue Winter spotlights is how far inside "free" can be. This is a two-CD set consisting of four extended, unnamed improvisations—and yet vast stretches of this music bop to the beat or groove unmercifully. And these guys don't waste time. Not thirty seconds into the first cut, you can feel a monstrous groove being created beneath your feet. Parker finds a bass line to his liking and repeats it a few times, as Drake's drums and cymbals dance around him. Throughout the album, they display the level of empathy that such great rhythm sections of the past—like Haden/Higgins, Grimes/Blackwell, and Hopkins/McCall—have used to create the kind of attack that has backed many of the masters of the last half-century.

Of course Anderson isn't a sideman on his own album. Far from it. When he enters, beginning with a few terse phrases, Parker starts to expand on his riff, and the three take off, treating the music like a ball of yarn being played with by a trio of energetic kittens. There are times when Anderson's playing resembles, say, Von Freeman, Dewey Redman, or Joe Henderson, but it's important to remember that he's a contemporary of these giants, not a footstep follower.

The second CD continues at the same high level, though each man has more unaccompanied solo space. Parker eventually pulls out his nagaswaram, and he and Anderson find a mutual language in which to converse. After several spins, I confess I have found no weak spots whatsoever here. This exceptionally well-played and well-recorded set is sure to end up on many Top Ten lists by year's end.

Track Listing: CD1: i. CD2: ii; iii; iv.

Personnel: Fred Anderson: tenor saxophone; Hamid Drake: drums; William Parker: bass, nagaswaram.

Title: Blue Winter | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Eremite Records

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