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Fred Anderson, Kidd Jordan & Friends
Chicago IL, 2 September 2000

For followers of free jazz in the Midwest Chicago is an obvious Mecca of sounds. On any given weekend there's certain to be something happening in the city at one of the handful of venues that make the music their regular stock and trade. The Empty Bottle, Hot House, Green Mill, are all regular watering holes for fans of adventurous and uncompromising sounds. But if a hierarchy were ever imposed on the city's venues the Velvet Lounge, situated on Chicago's near South Side, would easily rank at the top. Once you set foot inside the place, take a seat at the bar or a table, and the music from the players clustered atop the plyboard-constructed stage starts, the reasons behind its esteem pour down like a cool inviting rain. It's a museum for the music, but not in the traditional musty, dusty definition of that word. Fred Anderson's joint is a living, breathing repository—one that makes and documents history on a nightly and continuous basis. Nearly every evening of the week there's something happening there—whether it's a local group with a regular weekly gig or another from out of town just passing through, something about the place inspires musicians to turn out their finest and most unfettered work. What's more, the majority of it is recorded and archived by Fred's right-hand soundman Clarence Bright.

The tapes were definitely rolling on this night for the first of two Chicago Jazz Festival 'after sets' reconvening Fred and his old New Orleans chum Kidd Jordan on stage with friends. Jordan has made the yearly trip a tradition and my experiences at last year's meeting made this year's a must-hear. Calling such an event a Jazz Festival 'after set' is something of a misnomer in that by and large the most exciting and memorable events always seem to transpire after the facilities over at Grant Park have closed up shop for the night. This night was no different and once bassist Darius Savage and drummer Vincent Davis took the stage at a little past 9:30 we all settled in for the main event.

After a brief bass/drums preface that had both Davis and Savage breaking a light sweat Kidd stepped up on stage and over a forceful rhythmic vamp let fly with stream of keening, frayed lines. In a solo that continued to gain both steam and volume, Kidd unleashed a torrent of overblown shouts from his tenor—skipping across the altissimo register and leaving the audience agape when his reed finally parted from his mouth. A quick rhythmic break and Fred joined his friend on stage, fastening his tenor to his torso harness, hunching down into his signature crouch and answering with a deep, almost baritone resonance. Working a supple thematic strand deep into the ears of the audience, Fred swabbed out any and all wax—leaving our eager canals cleansed and prepped to receive the melodic milk to follow. Paving the way further, Savage and Davis generated a furious pace tugging out a choppy rhythmic sea over which Fred vaulted with ropy foghorn blasts. After another gorgeously conceived solo Fred stepped back, laying out with Davis and allowing Savage time alone with his strings. Mixing sparsely placed plucks with double-timed strums Savage's solo was a little on the simplistic side, but with Davis' cymbal punctuations his statement still managed to support considerable weight.

Fred soon returned blowing in balladic mode over a shuffling syncopated beat before Kidd joined him and the two engaged in the first of several duets. Twining upper register tones with juxtaposed high and low streams, the pair was like a post-modern incarnation of Ammons and Stitt. After an incredibly sustained exchange Fred finally dropped out leaving Kidd again with the rhythm before Douglas Ewart, who had been waiting in the wings stepped up and moved to the front on soprano. Taking a protracted solo heavily steeped in multiphonics, but somewhat lacking in terms of melodic range Ewart mimicked a snake charmer trying to lull his serpent with a wall of notes. Fred eventually returned blowing throaty counterpoint underneath and signaling a shift for a solo from Davis. The drummer's exposition was so precise in execution and stentorian in volume that the eventual reappearance of the ensemble almost seemed premature. Fred, Kidd and Ewart—blowing from his chair stage-side—took the set out to unanimous and clamorous applause. The din was so loud that ears were ringing by its close.

Set two opened with Tatsu Aoki taking over bass duties and AACM legend Ajaramu setting up a hasty shop behind the drum kit. Working over a thickly syncopated funk beat Kidd and Fred entered together, turning the base metals of their horns into vessels of pure opaline magic. Arthur Taylor, an AACM member I'm unfamiliar with, took the stage soon after a lengthy exchange from Fred and Kidd, blowing a long, if somewhat restrained solo on alto. Nipping at the heels of the horns, Aoki and Ajaramu moved to the fore hammering out an ululating rhythmic vamp that eventually took center stage as the three front men dropped out. Grin inducing solos from Kidd and Fred followed, flanked closely by Ajaramu. This latter exchange worked the audience into fervor as Fred dug in under a barrage of benevolent drumfire. Ajaramu's limbs blanketed his kit creating a continuous motion of rhythms as Fred dug deep into the baritone range of his horn. Suddenly Kidd and Taylor joined in rising to a locomotive speed before a final coda by Fred took the piece out in a whisper.

The second piece opened with Ewart solo and later in trio with Aoki and Davis, Ajaramu having had his say and retiring to a seat stage side. Twittering overtones and high harmonics spewed from Ewart's horn and in a prismatic flash Fred and Kidd resumed their stations, blowing again at fever pitch. A lengthy and absorbing drum solo by Davis followed before the horn men magnetized again into a three-pronged harmony of blast furnace heat. Kidd stepped forward after for a solo after several minutes, ascending into an ear-melting dirge as Fred shouted "Go, Go, Go"—goading his friend on to further heights. Kidd was so possessed that the words fell on deaf ears and Fred simply smiled. Building to a fever pitch, the former eventually had to pull his mouthpiece from his lips, breathing a deep and winded sigh before Fred swooped in beneath him for a final coda with Aoki and the inevitable close. As the last note drifted from the bell of Fred's horn the audience erupted in a unified bedlam of applause, whistles and roars. Wiping the sweat from his mahogany brow Fred reintroduced the players and excused himself for a short break promising yet a third set! Glancing up at the plastic Coors clock on the wall I noticed the time—ten till one! Over three hours had elapsed and it was time for me to cut out to meet a friend, so I regrettably missed the finale. But exiting the Velvet into the warm summer night air, I went away with both my ears and my soul throbbing with a deep and lasting satisfaction.