Now 76, Fred Anderson is a repository of songs from the Heartland. As a founding member of the AACM, he’s been a vital member of the Chicago jazz community, and it’s clear that he’s listened to others as much as others have listened to him. This trio date with ideal bandmates bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake from December, 2004 captures his prodigious outpouring of song—plainspoken, yet delivered with the intensity of fire music; cogent and tightly knitted, yet flowing free and uninhibited.
The trio opens with a 44-minute exploration of the folk blues. Drake sets the scene with some tap dance figures, while Parker adds a resonant melodic seam. Anderson comes in on top, entering at an odd-angle, singing in his middle register, pulling continuous melody from the blues modality. And that’s the train the musicians ride throughout the tune. The time eludes easy metric calculation. Anderson lifts melodies from the bass line and elaborates on them. Parker plucks phrases from the saxophonist’s stream of song, and shapes them into invigorating vamps. They keep turning the same material over and over, pushed along by Drake, who adds polyrhythmic flourishes at the end of Anderson’s phrases. Yet even after three-quarters of an hour, they still seem not to have exhausted the materials at hand.
Having exercised such stylistic single-mindedness on the opener, the trio follows up with a more diverse musical journey. Anderson opens up with a five-minute modal call to prayer. He rises with simple pleading figures. As he spins those out, he alternates direct swing-like riffs with bop filigrees, punctuating them with honks in his lower register. Anderson and Parker converse when the bassist enters, nailing notes as a foundation. Drake joins them with some tambourine and Anderson worries a gospel-inflected figure. The tempo picks up for Parker’s solo. It’s indicative of the way he and Drake are able to shift gears with nary a hiccup. When Parker takes an arco solo, Drake deftly cuts the tempo in half. Parker ends the solo picking out two low notes as Drake’s beat becomes more insistent. Then, echoing a figure Anderson had played while accompanying the arco solo, he brings forth a funk figure with Drake’s backbeat right at his elbow.
Two shorter pieces close the set. The first is an extended conversation with Parker on nagaswaram—a bright, nasal double-reed instrument—Anderson’s tenor, and Drake’s hand drumming. The set closes—I’m assuming this was an encore—with an unsettled ballad that evolves into the trio’s most frenzied playing of the date before Anderson brings the trio home with some searching lyricism. A fitting end for a set of songs from the heart.