Fred Anderson Trio: Live at the Velvet Lounge

Chicago tenor titan Fred Anderson is now receiving the documentation he deserved decades ago. Credit Okka Disk in taking the lead, as Live at the Velvet Lounge is the Chicago-based label’s fifth album to feature Anderson in the last five years. Anderson’s strength as a player and his stature as mentor and inspiration to successive waves of Chicago musicians, however, was bound to attract labels outside of Chicago; it’s fitting that a community-minded label like Asian Improv is on the case with Volume One, also recorded at Anderson’s fabled Velvet Lounge.

These expansive live performances are a testament to Anderson’s strength, stamina, and focus. His lengthy essays strike a unique accommodation of self-reinforcing design and form-melting fire. Even at his most quietly meditative, Anderson has a searing intensity that countless other tenor players vainly bust their guts to approximate. Much has been made of Anderson as the missing link between Coltrane and the AACM, but Anderson neither wears overt spiritualism or revolutionary zeal on his sleeve. As Ken Vandermark reports in his liner notes, Anderson was restocking the beer cases an hour after Live at the Velvet Lounge was recorded, a strong metaphor for Anderson’s approach-an everyday Zen with equal emphasis on the “everyday.” This is evident in every note Anderson plays on these two discs.

Both ensembles give Anderson plenty of fuel; notably, each includes a long-time collaborator-trumpeter Bill Brimfield on Volume One and percussionist Hamid Drake on Live at the Velvet Lounge. A close associate of Anderson’s for over 30 years, Brimfield is as flinty and hard-hitting a soloist as he was on Joseph Jarman’s seminal Delmark disc, Song For. Drake has worked with Anderson for over 25 years; his relentless propulsion and distinctive use of buoyant African and Caribbean patterns is thoroughly impressive. The surprise of the two discs is first-generation European free jazz bassist Peter Kowald on Live at the Velvet Lounge, who alternates between a Garrison-like undertow to pull Anderson gradually from pensive musings to exuberant outpourings, and a bold arco technique that provides an instant voltage surge. On Volume One, bassist Tatsu Aoki and drummer Chad Taylor make consistently engaging contributions.