Any meeting between tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson and drummer Hamid Drake is worth hearing; Back Together Again, their recent duo album on Thrill Jockey, was superb. Unfortunately, not every one can be a pearl. Case in point: this two-CD set with bassist William Parker.
The trio is less than the sum of its parts. Parker seems like the odd man out. He and Drake never click-due, I think, to a clash of concepts. Drake is an outstanding "in-and-out" player, while Parker is principally an "out" bassist. Consequently, Drake's ability to move seamlessly between free time and no time nearly goes to waste. Parker thrives in totally free situations. Much of the time, however, the music moves in the direction of uptempo swing, which isn't Parker's bag. Best are the infrequent stretches where the tempo is relaxed enough to allow Parker maximum rhythmic flexibility. Drake is well rounded and tasteful enough to do whatever it takes to put the music over. Still, he and Parker aren't always on the same page.
Fred Anderson may be a free-jazz icon, yet he is at his core a swinger-and a modally inclined swinger, at that. There's not an abundance of chromaticism in his playing. He typically latches onto a tonal center and keeps to it. And while he's an adept free-time player, he's never better than when playing over a relatively straightahead rhythm section. Drake is the perfect partner for him, Parker less so. Anderson's playing here is inventive but unremarkable by his high standards, owing perhaps to the imperfect chemistry.
At well over 100 minutes, there's a lot of music here, but it's an enervating listen. Free-jazz conceptions are not interchangeable. These guys are good at what they do, but judging by this album, maybe they shouldn't do it as a trio.