Saxophonist Fred Anderson, a longtime fixture on the Chicago jazz scene, has been at it since the 1960s, cranking out some of the most inspired playing to come out of the Windy City – or any city, for that matter. Guided by the ghost of Charlie Parker, the ballads of Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, and the ever-bold Ornette Coleman, Anderson is chameleon-like in his approach, balancing beautiful and blustery tones. As a co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and the owner of Chicago’s Velvet Lounge, one of city’s centers for jazz and experimental music, he has been a mentor to countless young musicians and still exhibits an adventurous spirit.
To be able to play with the energy, imagination and sheer force Anderson showcases on 21st Century Chase would be a feat for any musician — but at age 80, it’s flat-out mind-blowing. Recorded live in March 2009 at his home club on Chicago’s south side, Anderson is joined for his birthday gig by bassist Harrison Bankhead, drummer Chad Taylor, guitarist Jeff Parker (of Tortoise renown), and New Orleans’ Edward “Kidd” Jordan on tenor sax for three long-form pieces that skronk, squeal, soothe, and swing.
The opening “21st Century Chase, Pt.1” clocks in at nearly 40 minutes, leading off with two minutes of Anderson playing solo, shrieking and squeezing soul out of his horn before the rest of the ensemble swoops in and locks into a relentless, hard-driving groove. While it’s packed with brilliant playing, the exhilaration soon turns to exhaust — even the most hardcore avant-garde lovers might tire of the interminable track.
“21st Century Chase, Pt. 2” finds the two tenors continuing their battle, meandering between sounds melodic and mangled for another 15 minutes. The 17-minute “Ode to Fielder” (written for fellow AACM founder and drummer Alvin Fielder) wraps up the set as the members of the fiery quintet push and pull each other in daring directions. While he’s backed by a top-notch group, Anderson is the star here. His ability to command a stage — but to also yield to those making music with him — is impressive. To burn as intensely as Anderson does is something for all musicians to aspire to — whether they’re 18 or 80. Some just might prefer a shorter fuse.
(Note: A DVD version of 21st Century Chase: 80th Birthday Bash, Live at the Velvet Lounge features a bonus track, “Gone But Not Forgotten”, with bassist Henry Grimes.)