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Published: 2007/03/21
by Pat Buzby

From the River to the Ocean – Fred Anderson and Hamid Drake

Thrill Jockey 183

The instant, a minute into From the River to the Ocean, when it settles into a two-bass modal groove, memories of John Coltrane’s experimental 60’s sessions and the work of such prots as Pharaoh Sanders and Archie Shepp come to mind. After noting the label and the involvement of two members of Tortoise, the thought arrives that the spirit of those Impulse records seems to have bypassed much of the current jazz generation and gripped members of the ’90s indie rock wave instead.

This was a fortunate event for many reasons, but especially because it has helped one of the great soloist/rhythmatist combinations of our time get the documentation it deserves. Hamid Drake is content to play elemental drum beats for long stretches, but it’s a safe bet that he’ll throw a polyrhythm into the mix or switch cymbal textures at the precise point that Fred Anderson’s saxophone could use a nudge in a different direction. And Anderson stands with Von Freeman at the head of a Chicago workingman’s avant-jazz tradition which is getting attention now after eluding it for decades. One could make an Ornette Coleman/Eric Dolphy allegory Freeman, like Dolphy, tends towards inside-out statements over conventional jazz chord changes, while Anderson shares Coleman’s ability to shape friendly, blues-based narratives over minimal structures.

While Anderson and Drake were alone together on their previous release, Back Together Again, From the River to the Ocean adds guitarist Jeff Parker and bassists Josh Abrams (doubling on guimbri) and Harrison Bankhead (doubling on cello and piano) to the ensemble. Any chance to hear Parker improvise is especially welcome he gets the dry tone and searching, edging-into-distortion lines that evoke the 1969 days before jazz-rock took a turn for the clich

Like those '60s records, this disc is sometimes prone to long-windedness. This tendency becomes evident as the opener ambles past the ten-minute mark, while the second track, “Strut Time,” keeps a two-bar riff cycling for no less than 21 minutes. Any isolated passage is appealing, but the total effect gets wearying. The Coltrane-esque funereal “For Brother Thompson,” dedicated to AACM veteran Malachi Thompson, expresses a worthy sentiment, but Anderson’s playing edges a bit sharp for comfort, as it does on occasion elsewhere on the CD.

Nonetheless, From the River to the Ocean is a valuable document. With Anderson nearing the age of 80, the opportunity to hear him interact with Drake and other like minds a generation younger is one not to take for granted.

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