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Fred Anderson: Staying in the Game

Lyn Horton By

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Bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Tim Daisy open with a rhythmic standard for tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson in Staying In The Game. An innate sense of melody springs from Anderson, a pure-tone player if there ever was one. But even more noteworthy is the ease with which Anderson improvises on one set of phrases.

"Sunday Afternoon" absorbs nearly half of the recording. Mastery of his musicianship over sixty years allows Anderson to manufacture unstoppable variations on his first back-and-forth, up-and-down musical picture that sets itself squarely in the musical hammock that Bankhead and Daisy keep rocking. Anderson draws lines that twist and turn in and out of low and high notes, cascading progressions, rapid and tempered passages and resurgences of melodic structure. Close attention reveals how the changes happen, how other directions are pursued and new paces occur. The alteration of the thematic material into explorative tangents happens early on in the track and carries through into exciting, electric territory. Following an up- tempo sax and drum flurry, Bankhead's solo brackets an entrancing arco passage with expressive pizzicato that thrusts Anderson and Daisy into the coda. The bass bears the weight to the closing note.

Anderson dwells in the mid to low range of his tenor. The energy with which he plays only emphasizes the wealth of instrumental knowledge he applies to each improvisation. Bankhead's ingenious pizzicato and arco conversation with Anderson demonstrates their musical compatibility ("The Elephant and The Bee"). Bankhead's versatility with the thumb piano and other percussive instruments allows Anderson to expose his lyrical, endearing side ("Wandering"). When the drums enter the flow with full rounds of the drum set, Anderson and Bankhead do not let up; the three continue in constant motion. Anderson might pause for a brief moment to take a breath before he digs in again to repeat or slightly change the riffs that follow in quick succession ("60 Degrees in November").

Acutely aware of the timbral vicissitudes that come with this bass and sax combination, drummer Daisy has a light and accurate touch that uses the entire kit. He does not focus on one aspect over another ("60 Degrees In November"); he is right in there, moving his sticks across the cymbals, catching the snare as he goes. Occasionally the cymbal reverberates, accenting the largeness of Anderson's figures ("Sunday Afternoon," "Changes and Bodies and Tones"). Or Daisy paints the backdrop for Anderson's excursions into clear-cut, erudite and relentless abstraction that in "Singing Winter" concludes with a full denouement, capped with a five-second vibrato. Daisy's solo in "Changes and Bodies and Tones" shows nothing less than his sensitivity to changing instrumental moods and colors (cf. the establishment of a regular pulse in "Sunday Afternoon").

Remarkable about this recording is its intimacy. The individual sax, bass and drums sounds are uniquely intertwined and simultaneously distinct. Staying In The Game carves out a place for itself that is not too far from first, in both relevance and memory.

Track Listing: Sunday Afternoon; The Elephant and the Bee; 60 Degrees in November; Wandering; Springing Winter; Changes and Bodies and Tones.

Personnel: Fred Anderson: tenor saxophone; Harrison Bankhead: bass; Tim Daisy: drums.

Title: Staying In The Game | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Engine

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