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Fred Anderson Quartet: The Milwaukee Tapes, vol. 1

Derek Taylor By

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In many ways John Corbett’s new reissue imprint Unheard is akin to manna from heaven for followers of creative improvised music. Engineered with the purpose of plumbing the strata of the music’s history and unearthing unknown and forgotten wonders from its past the inaugural releases from the label are certain to entice jazz fans worldwide. Who better than Corbett, a man who has had his finger firmly on the pulse of the most electrifying aspects of the music for years, to field such an endeavor. On the four new discs that comprise the label’s initial wave he does not disappoint and future releases promise to be equally indispensable.

Among the new titles this disc is the most monumental for me personally and leads me to a personal story that I hope readers will allow me to indulge in. Several years ago I made a move to Madison, Wisconsin, a daunting prospect made tolerable by the city’s close proximity to Chicago. I first became acquainted with Fred Anderson’s music through frequent weekend forays to the Windy City and more specifically the Velvet Lounge (a bar he owns and manages on the near South Side that is a regular watering hole for some the best and brightest jazz talent in the city). Listening to Fred in person is an unforgettable experience. The sight of him bent over in a crouch pealing off muscular strands of melody from his tenor, his face puckered with concentrated emotion, echoes the honesty and immediacy that always manifests in his music. Albert Ayler once posited that ‘music is the healing force of the universe’ and through Fred’s horn this cosmic contention is proven abundantly real. Discovering his music reaffirmed my decision to relocate geographically as one of the best I’ve ever made.

Fred’s sound on disc is obviously not the same as drinking in the rich mead of his music live. But parallel levels of emotive depth are often reached even in the static recording setting divorced of the moment of creation and there have been many times that I have found spiritual solace in referencing his work. Sadly Fred’s discography and the place afforded him in the history books of jazz music have been until recently rather slight. As a founding member of the AACM and a teacher/mentor to countless musicians the number of recordings to his name is unforgivably small and this fact is one of the primary reasons that this collection of previously unreleased material is so intensely rewarding. Recorded at a now nameless Milwaukee club these sessions visit Fred shortly after his third recording as a leader ( The Missing Link, still available on Nessa) with virtually the same group save the absence of percussionist Adam Rudolph and the addition of long-time partner Billy Brimfield. The pieces have very much the same flavor of that studio date, and benefit greatly from the spontaneous latitude afforded by the live setting.

Fred is known for taking a relatively simple melodic line, pulling it apart and reassembling it into a multitude of subtle variations. On the surface his rousing runs sound sometimes the same, but it’s such a verdantly stirring terrain that he’s traversing that like the greatest of blues songs his improvisations never mire in their musical repetition. Along the way Drake’s multifarious drums and Hayrod’s drone pattern bass keep an indelible pulse beneath. Brimfield sits out on the opening “A Ballad for Rita,” but his presence on the other tracks delivers a fascinating window into his musical relationship with Anderson that until now has only been largely visible only on last year’s Fred Anderson Quartet (on Asian Improv Records). The fidelity of the disc is another revelation. Recorded professionally direct to 8-track tape all the instruments are evenly balanced and crisply preserved. The highlights are simply too numerous to recount and suffice it to say this disc belongs in every jazz collection!

Tracks:A Ballad for Rita/ The Bull/ Black Woman/ Bombay (Children of Cambodia)/ Planet E.

Players:Fred Anderson- tenor saxophone; Billy Brimfield- trumpet; Larry Hayrod- bass; Hamid Drake- drums, tabla.

Recorded: January or February 1980.

Unheard releases are available directly through Atavistic:

Title: The Milwaukee Tapes, vol. 1 | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Atavistic Worldwide


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