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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake
From The River To The Ocean
Thrill Jockey

Rating: 8.7/10 ?

April 27, 2007
When mulling over From The River To The Ocean, it occurred to me how absurdly ridiculous it is for today's pop music writers to be "critiquing" jazz musicians such as Fred Anderson, a man who has been revered for his playing longer than most scribes have been alive. For one thing, many of the people who pen today's reviews are more concerned with flashy prose than they are with an accurate description of the subject matter. Another worry comes from the simple fact that many self-prescribed music aficionados don't - and will never - truly understand free jazz.

So in light of the fact that my analysis means nothing, Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake are an ideal pair for such a situation. Both are seasoned masters of their respective crafts (saxophone and percussion), but neither are so far inside their instruments that they can't make their music enjoyable for everyone. Anderson has always been about providing the jazz experience for outsiders and regulars alike: through owning the famous Chicago jazz club, Velvet Lounge, since 1982; helping found the Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in the 1960s; and being a rare breed of the old-meets-new tradition (this is his third release on hip indie label Thrill Jockey). Drake is a musical professional whose excellence in many percussive sytles - African, Indian, Afro-Cuban, and Latin to name a few - has helped him to reach a broad audience and perform behind greats like Don Cherry and Pharoah Sanders.

Both players have inscrutiable resumes, but when listening to the duo's latest pair up, From The River To The Ocean, all the busy information is set aside and focus is drawn to the groove, feel, mood and improvisations. Anderson and Drake's combination of elements make it immediately obvious that this is no bop, cool, or fusion jazz album.

Some listeners are turned off by the way free jazz artists don't always abide to an obvious framework or follow conventional progressions, while to others the sound of seemingly constant improvisation is an invigorating break from music's generally rigid, structured form. Whether Anderson & Drake evaluate their music in such a way is unknown, and a more valuable point of observation is how the pair arrive at their finished product. A song like the 21-minute "Strut Time" has a planned-out intro/end and an underlined theme throughout - a swinging drum pattern, clear-toned and warm electric guitar chords, and a walking bass line. On top of that foundation are those elements that make this album special: Harrison Bankhead's earthy sounding cello stretches; Anderson's fluttering, vibrant saxophone runs; and Drake's Blakey-like drum solo.

"For Brother Thompson" (an homage to the deceased trumpet player Malachi Thompson), the album's title track, and "Sakti/Shiva" are examples of how jazz can be unconventional without being a difficult listen. All three have a spiritual/non-Western cultural feel brought on by instruments that are not commonly used in the genre. "From The River To The Ocean" gains momentum from Drake's pulsing frame drum play, over which Josh Abrams offers the unique sound of the guimbri, a three-stringed Moroccan acoustic bass. Further texture is found in the expressive voices of Jeff Parker's (Tortoise, Isotope 217) electric guitar and Anderson's sax. In "For Brother Thompson," bells, chimes, and a spoken/sung foreign voice create a very sťance-like atmosphere.

Although Anderson and Drake's music may seem a bit more randomly drawn than your signature Giant Steps Coltrane or Kind Of Blue Miles Davis, it is important to remember that both of these recognized greats are equally well known for their eccentric avant periods as they are for those straightforward bop and cool modes. The only difference for Fred Anderson and Hamid Drake with From The River To The Ocean is that they don't have the luxury of hindsight acceptance. For people who actually like music, they won't need that 20 years to tell the difference - this album is excellent right now.

Reviewed by Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other reviews by Josh Zanger



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