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Friday, December 15

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Artist Sun Jun 10 2007

Rivers Known & Oceans Crossed

This week sees a pair of events celebrating the release of the new album from two Chicago jazz titans, tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson and percussionist Hamid Drake. Entitled From The River To The Ocean, the album was recorded by John McEntire at Soma Studios and it's a full-ensemble affair that features outstanding accompaniment from multi-instrumentalist Harrison Bankhead of 8 Bold Souls affiliation, bassist Joshua Abrams, and AACM guitarist Jeff Parker (of Tortoise, Chicago Underground Quartet, et al.) who steps in for three of the album's five tracks. Tuesday night, the full ensemble will be playing at an RSVP event at the headquarters of Stop Smiling magazine. The performance will be hosted by local author, curator, and musician John Corbett, who'll be conducting a public q&a with the band throughout the set. And on Wednesday night, the band will playing a regular evening set at Anderson's Velvet Lounge.

While Anderson and Drake have had a long history of working and recording together over the past three decades, From The River To The Ocean marks a singularly remarkable convergence of talent and mastery. That this is an occasion of no small significance is made immediately clear on the album's opener, "Planet E," which begins as a frenzied interplay of Drake laying into an intricate and propulsive afro-latin rhythm, with Bankhead and Abrams tangling on double bass duty as Anderson and Parker strike out toward the furthermost perimeters. The tune eventually settles down into a more relaxed mode before segueing into the groover "Strut Time."

As if to reflect the combined stylistic range and flexibility of all involved, the mood of the disc progressively shifts and evolves from there on out. On Bankhead's composition "For Brother Thompson," Drake and Abrams lay down some low-level rhythmic rumblings that roll and swell ominously like a gathering storm, like clouds building and darkening over the Plains, as Anderson begins with a doleful lament that gradually changes into a different sort of cry, one that sounds boldly, almost defiantly, determined to pierce the most impenetrable gloom.

As the album heads into the home stretch, the music departs from more traditional jazz formulae and ventures out into more "spiritual" territory. The title track and closer "Sakti/Shiva" are both rooted in more distant, exotic soil. It is here that Drake digs into one of his rhythmic affinities, that being the music of the Gnawa of Morocco—that fusion of the percussive patterns of the Maghrebi ritualistic music with the trance music that hails from deeper down in continental Africa. On these tracks, Abrams sets his bass aside and takes to the guimbri, the three-stringed bass lute that provides Gnawi music with its overwhelming punch and buoyancy.

From The River To The Ocean is an evocative, and multifaceted musical journey from start to finish. Jeff Parker puts his stylistic flexibility and fluidity to optimal use, and Bankhead's work on cello broadens the palette wonderfully. Anderson's playing is unflaggingly strong throughout. His voice on the tenor saxophone is one that, beneath everything, is deeply anchored in blues-rooted phrasing. Forcefully so, at times—but not so much heavy or hard in nature, as more often assertively questioning, questing, contemplative.

And you have two chances to catch the ensemble in action this week. The Tuesday night performance and interview will be at Stop Smiling HQ at 1371 N. Milwaukee from 7-9pm, and those interesting in attending can RSVP here. Wednesday night's show takes place at the Velvet Lounge at 67 E. Cermak. Doors open at 8pm, the show starts at 9.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

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