Fred Anderson: The Great Vision Concert; Timeless; From the River to the Ocean; Live Willisau & Taktlos

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Fred Anderson/Harrison Bankhead
The Great Vision Concert

Fred Anderson

Fred Anderson/Hamid Drake
From the River to the Ocean
Thrill Jockey

Irene Schweizer/Fred Anderson/Hamid Drake
Live Willisau & Taktlos

New Yorkers have been fortunate, with no small debt of gratitude to the Vision Festival, to have fairly regular opportunities to see Fred Anderson. Going back almost a decade Anderson's first visits were with fellow Chicagoan Hamid Drake, Louisiana saxophonist Kidd Jordan and New York's own William Parker. Those visits only showed one side of Anderson, however. True he's given to the energy jazz on which Vision is founded, but back home at his club, The Velvet Lounge, Anderson is known on occasion to lay back as well. His more recent trips east have hinted at that side however and fortunately some recent CDs also show his mellower, more melodic facets.

Anderson's longstanding duo with drummer Hamid Drake is one of his strongest and most celebrated relationships. But in 2003 Anderson brought another strong player out from Chicago, the great and vastly under-recognized bassist Harrison Bankhead. Bankhead has been getting some notice outside Chicago since then and the set now released as The Great Vision Concert was almost an away-from-home premiere for him. Besides touring with 8 Bold Souls (another worthy Chicago group), a full-time job keeps him busy in the suburbs much of the time. This is the relaxed Anderson, stretching out with a friend, in no hurry to go anywhere: three long improvisations (15 to 22 minutes) followed by a 5-minute vamp.

That mood is present again in a home game recording with Anderson, Bankhead and Drake on Timeless. The 2005 concert at The Velvet (as it is affectionately called and before it relocated) has the warmth of a living-room jam - which it just about is. Anderson had run the club for some 25 years, taking over after the previous owner died and slowly but surely it became a fixture in the Chicago jazz scene. With a drummer present, he and Bankhead push a little harder than on the duo disc, but it's still a relaxed set, a nice companion to Anderson's 2003 Back at The Velvet Lounge, an essential recording for catching a glimpse of the warmth within his fire.

From the River to the Ocean takes the trio into the studio and adds a couple of guests. Although billed like an Anderson/Drake duet, the album includes (on most tracks) Bankhead (tripling on piano and cello), guitarist Jeff Parker and Josh Abrams on bass and guimbri. Parker has been a nice element to the Chicago AACM groups, a thoughtful and melodic player, a bit of Blue Note to the town's prevailing Impulse! He provides nice color here, as does Abrams and Bankhead's multi-instrumentalism is valuable to the session. But it's Anderson and Drake's record and it's an excellent one - thought through as a presentation created in the studio and one that will stand out in Anderson's discography.

Anderson is the guest on Live Willisau & Taktlos (or Drake is the common denominator, anyway, but it's pianist Irène Schweizer's turf). Schweizer's love of duos with drummers and her interest in African music made a duo with Drake almost inevitable and their eventually being joined by Anderson almost as sure a bet. Recorded live at two Swiss festivals - the Taktlos Festival in 1998 and the Jazzfestival Willisau in 2004 - this is the most energetic of the discs here. Still, Schweizer has plenty of styles at the flick of her wrist, from percussion-driven playing to rag and Monk and moves fluidly throughout the four tracks. After decades with little notice, it's a fortunate thing that the rate of Anderson's recordings just keeps picking up. And, having just turned 78 in March, so does he.

Tracks and Personnel

The Great Vision Concert

Tracks: Cloverleaf; Wandering; Trying to Catch the Rabbit; The Strut.

Personnel: Fred Anderson: tenor saxophone; Harrison Bankhead: bass.


Tracks: Flashback; Ode To Tip; By Many Names; Timeless.

Personnel: Fred Anderson: tenor sax; Harrison Bankhead: bass; Hamid Drake: drums, percussion.

From the River to the Ocean

Tracks: Planet E; Strut Time; For Brother Thompson; From the River to the Ocean; Sakti/Shiva.

Personnel: Fred Anderson: tenor sax; Hamid Drake: drums and percussion (1, 2, 3), chants (3, 4), frame drum (4); Jeff Parker; guitar (1, 2, 4); Harrison Bankhead: cello (2), piano (3), bass (1, 4); Josh Abrams: bass (1, 2, 3), guimbri (4, 5).

Live Willisau & Taktlos

Tracks: A former dialogue; Trinity; Schwandrake; Willisau.

Personnel: Irene Schweizer: piano; Fred Anderson: tenor saxophone; Hamid Drake: drums.

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