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Chicago Trio: Velvet Songs to Baba Fred Anderson

John Sharpe By

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Drawn from two nights at Chicago's legendary Velvet Lounge, this double-disc set by three of the Windy City's finest provides fitting tribute to that establishment's late proprietor. Tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson was held in high esteem for his support for young musicians, non-judgmental direction, and provision of a space to experiment and perform. That the music was recorded two years prior to Anderson's passing lessens neither the saxophonist's influence nor the depth of feeling behind the dedication.

Going under the moniker Chicago Trio, reedman Ernest Dawkins, drummer Hamid Drake and bassist Harrison Bankhead are well-versed in the flowing spontaneous invention in the jazz vernacular of which Anderson was such a lauded proponent. In fact, the rhythm pairing have a copious résumé, not only fulfilling the same role for the departed tenor man many times—a pedigree captured memorably on Timeless (Delmark, 2006)—but also with others such as flutist Nicole Mitchell's Indigo Trio on Anaya (Rogue Art, 2009) and The Ethiopian Princess Meets The Tantric Priest (Rogue Art, 2011).

Dawkins, as he has shown many times with his New Horizons Ensemble, cuts a dash as a fluent soloist, drawing upon a varied palette of reeds to create his swinging lope, at times bop-ish in his dancing oscillation around changing tonal centers, while at other times impassioned and unfettered. His bluesy oratory and occasional quote, such as "Wade In The Water" on "Moi Tre Gran Garcon," affirm the continuum to the tradition, but his keening emotional cry is never far from the surface, especially on alto, his most expressive horn. Notable for his use of two horns simultaneously, "Down n' the Delta," pulls out like a locomotive before transforming into a funky boogaloo that ends up as a rousing "When The Saints Go Marching In" to please the boisterous crowd. Similar alchemy ensues on "One for Fred," where the trio runs the gamut of styles so that after an initial blustery tenor incantation, choppy bass and drums cycle through free-bop and the blues, before culminating in a juddering stomp.

As purveyors of evolving grooves, Drake's partnership with Bankhead is rivaled only by his hookup with the great William Parker. They possess that same elastic sense of time which can morph between patterns without dropping a beat, exemplified here on "Jah Music." Drake is a master of structure, able to conjure a groove from chaos as he demonstrates on the free-form tumult of "The Rumble." Bankhead's other prime asset is his unfailing melodic sensibility, heard to good effect through his singing bowed cello line on "Peace and Blessing (to Fred)."

All three are so familiar with shifting between forms that they fashion convincing sonic tales out of thin air, and make it seem easy. Ultimately velvet proves an accurate epithet for these songs: comfortable and smooth with more than a hint of class.

Track Listing: Astral Projection; Sweet 22nd Street (The Velvet Lounge); You Just Cross My Mind; The Rumble; Peace and Blessing (to Fred); Down n' the Delta; Jah Music; Galaxies Beyond; Woman of Darfur; Waltz of Passion; Moi Tre Gran Garcon; One for Fred.

Personnel: Ernest Dawkins: soprano, alto and tenor saxophones; Harrison Bankhead: double bass, cello; Hamid Drake: drums, frame drum.

Title: Velvet Songs to Baba Fred Anderson | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Rogue Art

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