Philadelphia boasts three legendary guitaristsPat Martino
, Jimmy Bruno
, and Chuck Anderson
who belong on anyone's "profiles in courage" list. Each has made heroic recoveries from disabling medical conditions, recovering their chops and playing better than ever. Anderson, who some time ago recovered from debilitating sleep apnea, and after recently suffering a massive coronary and spending two weeks in an ICU, has made a full recovery, and is doing welcome-back gigs with his trio around the Delaware Valley. In case you don't know, Anderson is a master guitarist who studied with Dennis Sandole
, did turns with the house band at the Latin Casino in the 1970s, and has fronted outstanding trios during and since that time. His playing is carefully laid out, but he is capable of impulse-driven rushes of notes and chords that display his virtuosity and lend excitement to his music.
Anderson is also a prolific, if under-recognized, composer of tunes that have their own inner sentiments and provide excellent foils for improvisation. To celebrate his recovery, and in response to fans' requests, he has put together a compilation of his original songs selected from two previous trio albums: a 1974 self-produced vinyl called Mirror Within a Mirror
with the late bassist Al Stauffer and drummer Ray Deeley, and a 2016 Dreambox Media CD, Nighthawk
with his current sidemen, bassist Eric Schreiber
and drummer Ed Rick
. The work from the two trios blends well, and the result is lively, enjoyable, and musically interesting.
The opening track, "Match Sticks" finds Anderson's guitar, Schreiber's electric bass, and Rick's drums "matching" perfectly, rooted in Schreiber's neat bass walk. There is an episode of Paganini-like runs by Anderson and a playful, inventive solo by Schreiber. From the start, one can hear how the more youthful Rick and Schreiber have been honed by decades-experienced Anderson to form an outstanding guitar trio.
In "Spring Rain," we find the 1974 trio engaging in extended modal improvisation in a minor and then major mode. All three musicians, each a legend on his own, have been noted for their virtuosic technique, and here we find revered bassist Stauffer and Anderson taking shots at each other with short riffs that sound almost like scatting. Despite or because of the modal emphasis, the feeling of the blues predominates, as it does throughout the album.
The '74 trio continues with "Yvette," a laid back jazz waltz composed on the basis of a daydream Anderson had about an imaginary child ballerina like his first daughter was in real life. This is an excellent opportunity to hear bassist Stauffer's inimitable bass style which is almost demoniacal in its vocal quality. Then it's back to the current trio with "Trade Winds," a beautiful bossa nova. Anderson has a special interest in Brazilian music, and it pays off here.
The early trio delivers "Dance of the Algons," a tune with a funky sound evocative of a primitive ritual, perhaps of the great hunter and sky god of the Algonquin tribe. Each musician has an opportunity for an extended unaccompanied solo, and their artistry is quite apparent. The mythic god Algon conquered several challenges to win over his lover, which is always good news for a jazz song.
It's 1974 again, with "Woman Child," a sensuous ballad that explores a wide range of tonal centers. Anderson has a lush sound, and his harmonies are superbly crafted. The pace shifts with the current group's "Blues for Chris," a Wes Montgomery
kind of fast paced blues with lots of energy and snappy chord clusters. The group continues to swing with "Eiffel Tower" with guitar lines reminiscent of Herb Ellis
. And bassist Stauffer delivers a solo so rapid it would make heads turn in any club.
"VSQ" (you guessed it!) are the initials of a vodka brand that Anderson recalls Al Stauffer drank. Drummer Deeley provides a heated rhythm that allows for fast paced improvising where the three musicians seem to be trying to outwit and outplay each other in real time. "Night Hawk" is perfectly composed jazz "standard" that his current group performs often. On this track, they amply illustrate how a trio can come together as a coordinated unit to provide a through-composed feeling.
"Wind Mist," is a country-style ballad and features Stauffer's statement of the melody and his subsequent soloing in his inimitable style. "Jamey's House of Music" is dedicated to a music room turned jazz venue in a Main Line suburban home. The tune is a lively celebratory piece with a samba rhythm.
"Ft Wayne Express" brings back the '74 group with a tune suggestive of Wes Montgomery's "Full House." Stauffer and Deeley are perfect foils for one another, and Stauffer's solo takes first prize with his unexcelled fingering. The album concludes with "Phoenix Rising," a held back contemplative song performed by the 1974 group with consummate artistry. Deeley's ethereal drum work almost lifts this tune into the air.
This album is a "sleeper" that should raise some eyebrows. It makes for an hour or so of enjoyable and never contentious listening, but more than that, the ensemble playing of both trios is masterful, and Anderson comes through as a composer, guitarist, and leader of the highest level. And any album with Al Stauffer on it should be a collector's item.