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Fred Anderson: 21st Century Chase

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The prototype here is “The Chase,” the 1947 Dexter Gordon/Wardell Gray workout that virtually defined “tenor battle” for succeeding generations. But this set, recorded at Chicago’s Velvet Lounge during Fred Anderson’s 80th birthday celebration, recasts that concept: No longer do the frontmen dominate at the expense of their bandmates, and the spirit is closer to the symmetry of the dance, spiced by vigorous call-and-response dialogue, than mock combat.

Anderson states a theme then expands it into outwardly spiraling circles until it has been thoroughly recast. He’ll then segue into a fresh variant and repeat the process, not stopping until every possible iteration and perspective has been explored. His tonal force is nothing short of awe-inspiring; he sometimes sounds as if he’s pulling those circles taut by main strength, only to release them to furl back together under their own power.

Fellow tenorman Kidd Jordan is the perfect foil for Anderson. Though best known for his high-end overtone fusillades, he’s equally capable of unleashing complex, full-bodied middle-register lines. Charged with churchy fervor and a forward-driving impetus, his patterns weave through Anderson’s dancing circles, merging and melding into new shapes and shards. Guitarist Jeff Parker and bassist Harrison Bankhead both support and spur the saxmen with their propulsive sonic geometry, and drummer Chad Taylor, deftly fusing the elements of time and tone, layers punctuations and seasonings with pointillist precision.

At times these musicians venture into realms so wild and free that one fears for their return. But the fury always winds down to resolution. Near the end of “21st Century Chase Pt I,” Jordan eases into a solemn yet uplifting rendition of the spiritual “Wade in the Water”-a tribute to deepest roots, as well as to the spiritually charged inspiration that both goads these masters and serves as their lodestar.

Originally Published

David Whiteis

David Whiteis is a critic, journalist, and author based in Chicago. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2001 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Journalism. His books include Southern Soul-Blues (U. of Illinois Press, 2013) and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (U. Of Illinois Press, 2006). He is currently at work completing a book on contemporary Chicago blues and a co-written autobiography of the late soul singer Denise LaSalle.