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For most of the last decade Jazz Festival weekend has meant one thing at Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge: the annual appearance of New Orleans saxophonist Kidd Jordan. Hurricane Katrina changed that last year, though--Jordan was one of thousands left homeless due to the tragedy. But he returns to Chicago on Friday and Saturday, a few weeks before the Jazz Festival, to spar with his old chum Anderson for the grand opening of the new Velvet Lounge. They’ll be joined by bassist Harrison Bankhead and Jordan’s Crescent City drummer of choice, Alvin Fielder.
Jordan has enjoyed a long and varied career in New Orleans, initially working as a hired gun—he’s played with everyone from Aretha Franklin to Stevie Wonder to Ray Charles—but he’s always been a jazzman at heart. Unfortunately, the fact that he's rarely recorded under his own name means he has a low profile for a musician of his stature and skill. Thankfully, the situation has been slowly rectified over the last decade--he's put out albums on Silkheart, Eremite, and Boxholder.
Just three weeks after Katrina hit, Jordan doggedly kept his commitment to a trio session for Aum Fidelity in New York, and the fruit of that labor has just been released. Palm of Soul (the site for the album includes sound samples) was recorded with bassist William Parker and Chicago drummer Hamid Drake, and it’s one of Jordan’s strongest outings. Although he’s an explosive blower, tapping into deep reserves of energy and upper register huzzah, the album is surprisingly gentle—aside from the minute-long postbop opener, the collection is dominated by ballads and turbulent meditations that feel appropriate considering the devastation Jordan had just witnessed. Parker only plays bass on two pieces, opting instead for ringing Asian percussion—gongs and metal bowls—and the Moroccan guimbri, a bass-like instrument, while Drake restricts his kit drumming in favor of tabla and frame drums.
Jordan’s tenor is distinguished by a weeping vibrato that navigates the space provided by his cohorts; he alternates between meticulous, fat-toned embroidery of bluesy licks and expressionistic, gorgeously striated cries. On “Unity Call” he delivers a stripped-down, slowed-down twist on Gnawan music, with Drake intoning Arabic vocals in a deeply soulful, chantlike style, and with Jordan answering and elaborating on each recited phrase. I’m sure Jordan will be in a more demonstrative, aggressive mode when he’s joined by Anderson in what promises to be some joyful gigs on August 11 and 12.