Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fred Anderson - 21st Century Chase CD/DVD (Delmark, 2009)

The idea of the tenor battle, two saxophonists squared off in mock combat against each other, has had a long tradition in jazz, be it Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, Dexter Gordon and Wardell Grey or Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Most of these “battles” are tongue in cheek affairs, as is the case here, where old friends Kidd Jordan and Fred Anderson take up the tenor saxophone chase, fronting a fine trio of Jeff Parker on guitar, Harrison Bankhead on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. This group came together to celebrate Anderson’s 80th birthday at his famous club, The Velvet Lounge and update the grand tradition with a fresh and free tenor duet. On the compact disc, there are three long freely improvised tracks where the two principals bob and weave around each other, not so much like heavyweight boxers, but lithe and nimble dancers. The differences in tone and they way each man approaches improvisation makes for an interesting contrast and keeps the music fresh throughout. “21st Century Chase Part I” is an epic of endurance at well over a half an hour. Jordan and Anderson trade ideas, collaborate, contrast and use all manner of shading and subtlety in an extraordinary performance. “Part II” starts off a little ragged, but when Jordan starts quoting snippets of John Coltrane, it seems to inspire everyone, and soon everybody is back on track. “Ode To Alvin Fielder” honors an under-appreciated musician with a grounded performance that allows each saxophonist to take subtle and thoughtful solos. The compact disc ends there, but the DVD version of the album has a special bonus track with the legendary bassist Henry Grimes sitting in on the freewheeling “Gone But Not Forgotten.” The band gets an excellent free groove going with rock solid foundation of Grimes on bass and Bankhead (in a killer red and black top hat and tails getup) moving to cello. The DVD is filmed from a few different angles, and there are some trippy special effects thrown in at times, but the do not cause a fuss as the focus is squarely on the music. There's also a commentary track from Anderson on the DVD, so it is well worth investing a few extra dollars in the video if you are so inclined. This was an interesting and at times exhilarating album to listen to (or watch.) Anderson and Jordan are in excellent form and they draw on the entire history of the tenor saxophone in jazz, at times referencing swing, bop and free in the pursuit of their music.
21st Century Chase -