SoundDance is a momentous release several times over. It marks the 80th birthday of the great pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams and the sad passing last year of his AACM friend and colleague, tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson, with whom he had rarely recorded since their emergence nearly 50 years ago in Chicago. The two-disc set also reunites Abrams and AACM trombonist/laptopper George Lewis, last heard together on Streaming (2006) with Roscoe Mitchell.
For all they signify, the two live, improvised sets on SoundDance are full of disarming invention and low-key charm. On “Focus, ThruTime … Time,” Anderson responds to Abrams’ open, ruminative phrasing, which splits the difference between free-jazz and modern-classical styles, with some of his sprightliest playing. Departing his signature earth tones for floating, tightly knit melodies, he imbues his side of the conversation with a lilting sense of well-being. After decades of being criminally under-recorded, Anderson made some strong collaborative albums in his 70s; among them, his duo efforts with drummers Robert Barry and Hamid Drake were extra-special. This set adds to that legacy.
With Lewis’ role ranging from muted wah-wahs and blubbery tones on trombone to saw-like effects and massed birdlike sounds on laptop, “SoundDance” has greater variety and intensity than “Focus, Thru Time,” and even some hair-raising drama. A computer maven long before the laptop generation, Lewis has a remarkably personal voice on electronics. Though Abrams commands attention with a brief stride/ragtime interlude and dark descending phrases, he acts more as a facilitator. While efforts like this can’t slake fans’ appetite for another big-band project from him, it’s great seeing him and his distinguished companions in the spotlight.