Fred Anderson's tenor saxophone playing is a happy paradox: he's a classic free-jazz fire breather who flies by the seat of his pants, but his burly tone and blues-draped sensibility hark back to golden-age Chicago tenors like Gene Ammons. On the solo improvisation "Ladies in Love," which kicks off his new On the Run, Live at the Velvet Lounge (Delmark), he reaches back further still, to early inspiration Coleman Hawkins, who defined a big tenor sound in the first place. There Anderson's leisurely, lyrical phrases and swaddling tone echo Hawk's pioneering 1948 solo, "Picasso" (and its '62 sequel, "Dali"). "Ladies in Love" is an explicit reminder that the old pretty players and their graceful roaming over shifting chords informs Anderson's conception of what the horn is good for. Even so, he's never had much use for parsing harmonies like a bebopper, and in his trio, he often gets by blowing endless reorderings and elaborations on pentatonic scales. Enabler Tatsu Aoki on bass has a tendency to grab some simple fast or slow vamp and ride it up and down Indiana from 14th to 24th, with the rubber-bandy tone of a 70s bassist trying out his first amp and pickup. His obsessing on one lick for long stretches can mesmerize Anderson into honking a few notes with the fevered persistence of a 1940s R & B tenor. (Prowling the stage in his hunched-over stance, he already looks like he's walking the bar.) Hamid Drake is dancing tabla to Aoki's static tambura; a master of suspended polyrhythms and slowly exploding cymbal colors with a tough snare sound and an authoritative approach to volume, he's one of the rare drummers who can play fortissimo and still catch and respond to whatever else is going on. As an extra stocking stuffer, the trio will be joined for these gigs by the Chicago Underground Quartet's Jeff Parker, one guitarist dragging muffle-tone jazz plectrism into the new century. His incisive timing and rabbit-punch chords should goose the leader that much more. Friday and Saturday, December 21 and 22, 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 21281/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050. If you can get up (or stay up) early enough afterward, you can catch Drake again at one of his annual 6 AM winter solstice duets with fellow percussionist Michael Zerang; see Bill Meyer's Critic's Choice for details.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.