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Thursday June 16 was billed as the day to celebrate the Fred Anderson Lifetime Achievement Award, honouring the Chicago tenor sax elder statesman and operator of the fabled Velvet Lounge. Previous Vision Festivals have honoured dedicatees like Don Cherry, Jimmy Lyons, and Julius Hemphill, but this was the first time a "living" legend has been so fêteda welcome case of what Jackie McLean once termed "giving them their flowers while they're here. Fred Anderson was very much here and featured in two of the evening's bands, while the rest of the bill featured alumni young and old from Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). But, before we got to the music, the Vision Festival demonstrated its conscience with an illustrated talk on Schools of Hope in Afghanistan from Zak Sherzad, one of the Festival's voluntary helpers.
Fred Anderson's '60s Quartet
Fred Anderson's '60s Quartet got the music underway. Anderson was joined by two fellow veterans of his '60s groupsJoseph Jarman on alto saxophone and bass flute, and Alvin Fielder on drumsalong with a more recent Chicago associate, Tatsu Aoki, on bass. Though they were billed as the '60s Quartet the band made no attempt to play in a style reminiscent of the period, in that their set was very much of a piece with Anderson's recent work: fluent improvised jazz without compositional signposts.
Anderson led off alone with a blues rhapsody. Aoki picked up on one of his motifs and a free flowing loping group improvisation ensued, with Jarman on alto and Fielder keeping a pulse on cymbals. Anderson and Jarman spilled out a gorgeous lyrical free counterpoint over Aoki's walking bass. As the rhythm became looser, the horns responded with squalls and squeals, before leaving Fielder to sweep around his kit with energetic rolls on toms and snare before peppering his cymbals, at which time Aoki rejoined. A slow meditative passage ensued with Jarman blowing pastoral on bass flute as Fielder set down a rolling shuffle with his brushes.
Overtones from Jarman prompted Anderson to become ever more animated, until they ended up with both horns flying. Jarman picked up Anderson's phrases and played them back at himriffs, licks, and honksuntil Jarman introduced an earthy riff, which Anderson picked up, and they took it out, blowing wild to a drum-rolled conclusion. Could it be any more perfect? Only if they had played for longer and Jarman had cut loose even more. But that's unnecessarily picky, and besides we already had another set from Anderson to look forward to.
At the conclusion of the set, Jarman and Fielder both spoke about working with Anderson 45 years ago. Jarman described taking a 45 minute train ride to take lessons with Anderson. Fielder mentioned being in the studio for the making of Song For, Anderson's debut recording, under Jarman's nominal leadership: "It was like waking up in Paradise, he said.
Joseph Jarman Ensemble
During the changeover for the next set, there was a short illustrated talk from Emma Zghal about the loss of Iraqi cultural artefacts, then subsequent campaigning by New York artists.
The Joseph Jarman Ensemble followed, with Jessica Jones on tenor sax, Doug Ewart on flutes, didgeridoo, and sopranino sax, Samuel C. Williams on piano, Thurman Barker on marimba, Levy Jones on bass, and Rob Garcia on drums. They contributed a surprisingly melodic set based on compositions, including Jarman's "Rondo for Jenny and "Lifetime Visions for the Magnificent Humans. Jarman recited and sang as well as playing alto and flute, though the most intense solo was left to Doug Ewart's sopranino, cutting loose with roller coaster runs in the penultimate number.
Nicole Mitchell Trio
One of the great things about a festival is the chance to check out new names who you might not see otherwise. The Nicole Mitchell Trio, new to me, was one of the festival's hits. Mitchell is one of the current generation of AACM improvisers and a rarity in creative music in that she specialises on flute. She was accompanied by bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Isaiah Spencer, both of whom have worked with Fred Anderson in the past.