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Vintage Tenor

Fred Anderson keeps the avant-garde alive

By Nicky Baxter

At 68 years of age, tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson is still blowing as if he had discovered the fountain of youth. Take a listen to Vintage Duets 1.11.80 (Okka) and compare it to last year's Birdhouse (also on Okka). While the latter is somewhat more conservative stylistically, there's no drop-off in intensity on the new album, and Anderson's creative juices seem inexhaustible. Not bad for a guy who has spent the last several decades running a nightclub.

Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of Anderson; Duets and Birdhouse are about the only recorded evidence that he even exists. The good news is that Okka was created specifically to rectify this sorry situation.

Despite his lack of national acclaim, Anderson is well-respected in Chicago's improvisational-music community. As a founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (formed in the mid-'60s with Muhal Richard Abrams and a host of other New Thing vanguardists), the tenor player has taken younger musicians under his wing and taught them to fly. Ask reedman Chico Freeman, who studied for years under the older musician.

Unlike the work of some of his more flamboyant post-bop peers, Anderson's playing isn't all sound and fury; there's a distinct undertow of tenderness, particularly evident in his more meditative work. And even when Anderson is hot to trot, he does so methodically, working his way from point A to point Z with the meticulousness of an sonic architect.

His self-effacing manner almost guarantees continued near-invisibility outside the confines of Chicago, but Anderson's recording career, at least, has gotten a shot in the arm thanks to the aforementioned Okka label and now Southport/Chicago, which will be issuing Fred--Chicago Chamber Music in the near future.

Anderson will appear with longtime associate drummer Hamid Drake and percussionist Adam Rudolph. Respected Bay Area-based poet Avotcja opens the show. She will be accompanied by percussionist Roland Jackson. The performance is a Koncepts Cultural Gallery presentation.

Fred Anderson plays May 11 at 7:30pm at ProArts, 461 Ninth St., Oakland. Tickets are $10. (510/655-8400)

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