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Music DVD Review: Fred Anderson – Fred Anderson 21st Century Chase: 80th Birthday Bash, Live At The Velvet Lounge

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There's an old saying, "Seeing is believing", and on occasions there's truth to those old sayings. Now I know quite a number of people who don't find seeing music on video very satisfying, and if it were the days before stereo sound and digital imaging I could understand. In those days not only was the footage not very good, but the sound was vastly inferior to anything you could hear through your home audio equipment. That was especially true for the more complex genres like classical or jazz. If you had the option of either listening to a track through your stereo or watching it on your television the former would win out every time.

Times have changed of course, and with the advent of DVDs, and not only stereo signals coming through televisions but surround sound as well, watching a performance on home video equipment has not only become more rewarding than just listening to it through the stereo, but in some cases even better than being there in person. People can talk all they want about the "experience" of a live concert, but I'm too old and fussy to want to be one of 100,000 people in a football stadium barely able to see even the video screens broadcasting the performance I came to watch. If I'm going to watch it on video I might as well have stayed at home where I could be comfortable and the sound would be a lot better.

Of course seeing a band in a small club is another thing all together, and if you have the chance to attend a gig where you know the sound is going to be good than there's still nothing to beats that for the intimacy and immediacy that it provides. However if you can't be there in person, then a well shot DVD comes pretty close to capturing the moment for you. I was reminded of all this because a short while ago I reviewed the CD version of a concert that jazz saxophonist Fred Anderson performed at his club the Velvet Lounge with some old friends to help celebrate his eightieth birthday last May, and now have had the chance to view the DVD of 21st Century Chase: 80th Birthday Bash Live At The Velvet Lounge put out by Delmark Records.

As on the CD he's accompanied on saxophone by the equally redoubtable Kidd Jordan, and they start the set off with a 30-minute plus version of the old Dexter Gordon/Wardell Gray tune written back in 1947, "The Chase". It has long since become the archetypical tenor saxophone "battle piece", where two tenor players compete and complement each other's improvisations. As one of the co-founders of the Association For The Advancement Of Creative Musicians (AACM) in Chicago back in the early 1960s Fred Anderson's bread and butter is improvisation. His buddy Jordan is no slouch either, having been at the forefront of the avant-garde jazz movement on the West Coast while Anderson was setting up shop in Chicago.

Perhaps somebody more well versed in jazz than myself wouldn't need a video recording to fully appreciate their performances, but for me watching them at work was a revelation. For example, listening to "21st Century Chase Part I" on the CD I had assumed that the two men had been trading solos, that I had been listening to one player at a time. What was being played was so seamlessly perfect it had to be the work of one man hitting the high tremors and harmonizing low notes simultaneously. However watching showed both men playing with Anderson hanging onto every high note that Jordan played and inserting his counterpoints in such perfect order that with your eyes closed it sounded like one man.

While listening to the CD I was well aware that there was a guitarist (Jeff Parker), a bass player (Harrison Bankhead) and a drummer (Chad Taylor), but seeing them in action really brought home the power of their contributions. I don't think I've ever really appreciated the intricacies of avant-garde jazz bass and drum work as much as I do now after watching Bankhead and Taylor at work. They both seemed to be skimming over their instruments without rhyme nor reason, but at the same time what ever it was they were doing was perfect for what else was happening on the stage. Parker, on the other hand, turned out to be the one holding down what most of us would recognize as the melody of whatever tune was being played. He was the calm in the centre of a mini storm of jazz improvisation that ebbed and flowed around him.

The DVD also comes with an extra track from that night's performance, and it features Bankhead switching over to cello and another old friend, Henry Grimes< picking up the bass. "Gone But Not Forgotten" sounds like it could be for all the ones who have gone before them. It feels like they've tapped into that great fountain of emotion which provides the joy we feel at the memory of the pleasure those who have gone used to bring us and the sorrow over the fact they are aren't here to be sharing the moment any longer. There's something about the extra underpinning of sound, perhaps the depth, that the combination of bass and cello bring to the song, which allows them to capture far more than you would expect from an instrumental of that duality of emotion we all feel for those who are no longer with us and meant so much.

If you appreciated and enjoyed the CD version of 21st Century Chase: 80th Birthday Bash, Live At The Velvet Lounge the DVD version will surely enhance that experience. It doesn't hurt matters that Delmark records have become past masters at bringing to life the music of Chicago's clubs and bars on DVD whether its blues or jazz. Using five handheld cameras and great editing they capture everything needed to bring you right on stage with the performers and the excitement of being in the intimate surroundings of the club. With Dolby 5.1 surround sound and 16:9 wide-screen format complementing their expertise in shooting and cutting the material, watching the result on your home screen will make a believer in the power of jazz and the abilities of Fred Anderson and his friends out of anybody. You might not be able to get to Chicago for these concerts, but these DVDs come as close as possible to bringing them to you.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.