I’ve been listening to tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson for about 30 years, and I can’t recall a more joyful, liberated, lyrical example of his playing than his latest disc, Duets 2001 (Thrill Jockey), with drummer Robert Barry. Anderson has already proved that his broad tone and epic solos can stand out in all kinds of crowds–from his 70s sextet (which launched the careers of Douglas Ewart, Chico Freeman, and George Lewis) to Edward Wilkerson’s Shadow Vignettes (a group of almost 30 that Anderson guested with at the 1998 Jazz Festival) to the trios and quartets he leads today. So the strength of Anderson’s work on Duets 2001 (which, despite the title, was recorded in May 1999, at the Empty Bottle) depends not on the minimal drums-and-tenor setting but on his chemistry with this particular drummer. Another longtime Chicagoan, Barry’s best known for his tenure in Sun Ra’s Arkestra in the 50s, despite such recent affiliations as Ken Vandermark’s Sound in Action Trio. He uses a stripped-down trap kit and takes a similarly economical approach to the music, with ears as big as his setup is small. He can shadow Anderson rhythmically with remarkable delicacy, refraining from ratcheting up the volume when his partner starts pushing hard, or he can explode into fury. On the record, Barry most often backs the saxist with lithe, dancing drum melodies that could stand alone as solos, simultaneously marking the beat and counterpunching with Anderson’s most playful phrasing. He provides almost all the variety and support a larger rhythm section could, but with much greater flexibility–a perfect complement to the saxist’s buoyant, swingy exclamations. Now 72, Anderson still comes off as well as he did in the 60s and 70s, when he first started using the “Chicago tenor” sound, epitomized by Gene Ammons, for extended improvisations; with his fervent melodicism and fearless rhythmic drive, he helped bridge the free-jazz innovations of Ornette Coleman and the second wave of the jazz avant-garde, represented in Chicago by the AACM (which he helped to found). Bassist Harrison Bankhead will join Barry and Anderson for part of the evening. Friday, June 29, 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 21281/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.