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An absence of availability has long hounded Fred Anderson’s discography of the 1960s and 70s. Compared to the boon of discs that’s been a steady blessing since the early 90s, manna from the Chicago sax doyen’s early years has been frustratingly hard to come by. And up until recently The Missing Link on the Nessa label was the lone available entry as leader from this period of his career. Thankfully John Corbett’s Unheard Music Series pledged at its inception to rectify these historical wrongs, and thus far the imprint has been making good on the promise. Last year’s Milwaukee Tapes, Volume 1 dusted off vintage live recordings by Anderson’s late 70s working quartet and this recent two disc treasure trove further embellishes the sonic portrait of that classic unit. Pairing a straight reissue of Dark Day, a concert recording taped at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and originally released on the Austrian label Message Records, with a revelatory performance from Anderson’s own archive the set cashes out plenty of bang for the proverbial buck. The former date cycles through shorter (relatively speaking) versions of several of Anderson’s staple blowing vehicles. The fidelity is a shade flat, though the players more than make up for the sonic deficiencies through a consensually conveyed passion of purpose.
The second disc is even better. Far crisper and less muffled than its commercially released companion, the recording cleanly delineates each of the four players and Drake in particular is well preserved in the balance. Perhaps not surprisingly to those familiar with his multifarious talents the drummer is the frequent focal point of the action and his extended solo turns, especially on the epic reading of “Three On Two” suggest that his prodigious polyrhythmic genius was already in full bloom at the tender age of 23. Palmore (who was replaced by bassist Larry Hayrod soon after these dates) tugs out a fat walking pulse much of the time, but also demonstrates himself a skilled technician with bow when the occasion presents itself. At the time of these concerts Brimfield and Anderson had already forged a musical relationship two decades strong and their synergy shows in the easy way each defers to the other between statements and pieces. Just as they do today Anderson’s relatively melodic heads work as the flexible springboards for loquacious improvisation. The two versions of “Dark Day” deliver a crash course in this facet of the Anderson asthetic.
One of the most compelling questions posited by the music on this release is the viability of a label dedicated solely to making choice items from Anderson’s vast tape library widely available. His friend Clarence Bright has been taping and archiving performances at his own Velvet Lounge for years. Add to this the presence of performances like the Verona date tacked on to this set and the reservoir for potential releases seems deep indeed. All that’s needed is the presence of some deep pockets and Anderson’s permission to make it a reality.
UMS/Atavistic on the web: http://www.atavistic.com
Track Listing: Disc One: Dark Day (18:40)/ Saxoon (11:32)/ Three On Two (18:07)/ The Prayer (10:55). Disc Two: The Bull (16:32)/ Three On Two (31:46)/ Dark Day (25:12).
Personnel: Fred Anderson- tenor saxophone; Billy Brimfield- trumpet; Steven Palmore- bass; Hamid Drake- drums, tablas. Recorded: May 15, 1979, Chicago, IL (disc one), and May 19, 1979, Verona, Italy (disc two).