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Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake - Back Together Again

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Artist: Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake

Album: Back Together Again

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Mar. 4, 2004

In writing a review of a recent Fred Anderson disc I found myself using phrases that were less than complimentary. The album in question, Delmark's Back at the Velvet Lounge, struck my ears as a problematic end product. Anderson appeared to be dragging his creative feet a bit through the same soil, still turning in passable music, but not on par with the stellar quality he so often achieves. I expressed worry that he might be in danger of repeating himself.

While similar in title, Back Together Again on Thrill Jockey has little in common with the disappointing Delmark entry and the differences have me happily eating some of those earlier words. Where the latter disc often sounds cluttered and commonplace in its ad hoc assemblage of Velvet regulars – a typical gig taped at Anderson's South Side Chicago oasis – this studio offering feels more spacious and finely wrought.

Another key ingredient is the intimate alchemy between Anderson and drummer Hamid Drake. The saxophonist has long worked best with percussionists, his rhythmic style of playing well suited for the interplay of sticks and slaps. And among his various drum partners Drake remains the closest fitting of the lot. The pair has been playing together for over three decades and across those years their teacher-pupil relationship has blossomed into one of peers.

Recorded examples of the duo's work in isolation are oddly scarce. Prior to this Thrill Jockey set, the only commercially released evidence could be found on "Waiting for M.C." a single 10-minute track tacked onto the end of Anderson's Birdhouse for Okkadisk. A tantalizing taste compared to the rich disc-length repast on hand here. Eight tracks roll out in just over 70 minutes – a generous program by anyone's standard. A bonus disc adds even more to the value and contains video footage shot by Chicago filmmaker Selina Trepp of Anderson and Drake in the studio. In both settings Anderson and Drake have the space to truly locute at length.

There's plenty of sinew surrounding Drake's considerable muscle. Strength and volume erode subtlety or finesse. His rhythms revolve in supportive circles around the saxophonist's fine-grained tenor lines. Similarly Anderson can read his friend through purely aural cues, something honed through the resounding rapport they share, leaving them free to focus on shaping emotions through detailed texture and tone. Anderson's tenor phrases here are some of his most measured and nuanced on record. Just drop in on "Black Women," a improvised reworking of Anderson's familiar tune turned plural in honor of the pair's respective mothers.

Several other pieces take on raga-like properties in their explorations of cyclical motifs. Drake's chant on the closing "Lama Khyenno" braids with Anderson's somber cerulean reed flutters above an oscillating frame drum beat. Together they convey the guiding humanistic impulse that lies at the root of their shared art. This studio meeting might have been awhile in materializing, but any ire over the wait seems superfluous now that it's arrived.

By Derek Taylor

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