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Fred Anderson - Timeless CD & DVD

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Artist: Fred Anderson

Album: Timeless CD & DVD

Label: Delmark

Review date: May. 11, 2006

Tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson’s music isn’t particularly sentimental, but his story more than makes up for it. He was already well into his 30s when he played at the first Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians gig and appeared on Joseph Jarman’s Song For; while his AACM fellows gathered accolades and spread the Midwestern free jazz gospel around the world, Fred stayed in Chicago to raise his family, tend bar and nurture younger players. When the records finally started coming, many of them were taken from concerts at his own Southside Chicago tavern, the Velvet Lounge. That venue is shuttered and set to go down before the wrecking ball any day now; for the past year, Fred’s fans and followers, not to mention the proprietors of other venues, have been chipping in to prepare a new space for him. Where’s Frank Capra when you need him?

A bit of Capra’s craft and spirit would have helped this CD and DVD to better live up to their shared title. Both are drawn from a pair concerts played by Anderson, longtime drummer Hamid Drake and bassist Harrison Bankhead in July 2005, shortly after the news came that the Velvet had to go. The music is pretty swell (and if you opt for the video you can see this correspondent’ss goofy grin and rhythm-challenged head-bob testifying to his appreciation of the music at the moment of its creation), but its presentation could be improved.

For a start, there’s the choice to sell two discs with the same performances, cover art, and liner notes as separate packages. Why not pair them and charge a fair price, the way Crammed Discs did for Congotronics Volume 2 or Neil Young has done on recent albums? Then there’s the cover. Of course, anything with the Velvet’s legendarily hideous wallpaper is going to make you squint a bit; nonetheless that wall covering needs preservation to recall the club’s funky charm. But the way Timeless’s harsh digital cut ‘n’ paste job overlaps the musicians’ images and the wallpaper is needlessly eye-hurting. The DVD also includes a disappointing discography feature that only identifies the contributing musicians’ records for Delmark; with a name like Timeless, they really ought to have listed all of Fred’s albums.

Still, Timeless stands up in the face of stiff competition from Anderson’s other trio albums with Drake – Live At The Velvet Lounge (Okka Disk) with Peter Kowald, Delmark’s own On The Run with Tatsu Aoki, and last year’s excellent Blue Winter (Eremite) with Wiliam Parker – to justify its place in Anderson’s no-longer-small catalog. Several qualities distinguish it from its predecessors. The sound is considerably higher-fi than the in-the-red ambience of most of the other Velvet Lounge recording. The bass and drums are impressively present and detailed, although the echo on Fred’s saxophone is a little distracting in spots. Anderson’s playing is a bit more deliberately paced than usual here, but not at the expense of his stouthearted tone. This affords the listener ample opportunity to savor the logic and momentum of his improvisations and the way his accompanists respond to them. Drake sounds especially at home here, stoking “Ode to Tip” with strutting accents, and moving to the front for a prayerful vocal turn on “By Many Names.” The exciting close-ups of his graceful forays about his kit on the title track constitute a powerful argument for springing for the DVD. On “By Many Names,” Bankhead plays bass like a flamenco guitarist, strumming fervently behind Drake’s frame drum pattern. Then he switches easily to a contrapuntal groove that complements Anderson’s un-spooling solo. Where it counts most – in the music – Timeless delivers.

By Bill Meyer

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