Fred Anderson is amazing. Approaching 80 years old, he's been releasing about an album a year for more than a decade, all of consistently high quality. That's in addition to running his club, the Velvet Lounge in Chicago, which had to relocate in 2006. Fortunately for listeners, he's showing no signs of slowing down. From the River to the Ocean continues his musical partnership with Hamid Drake, this time with help from bass players Harrison Bankhead (part of Anderson's regular trio with Drake) and Josh Abrams and guitarist Jeff Parker, all of whom had recorded with Anderson before. With Abrams doubling on guimbri on a couple tracks and Bankhead playing cello or piano on two other tracks, the album displays more variety than the lineup might indicate initially. "Planet E" kicks things off with a nice Parker solo once the band finds the groove after the intro. The rhythm section sounds amazing, with the basses panned wide and Drake's light but propulsive drumming. Anderson enters after Parker's solo with his big tone and searching, melodic lines while Drake kicks things up a bit to spur him on. The fantastic "Strut Time" has Bankhead switching to cello and starts with a killer solo from Fred. This one's also got nice dual soloing between Bankhead's cello and Anderson's sax, then cello with Parker's guitar. "For Brother Thompson" is an elegy to the late trumpeter Malachi Thompson that inhabits a place akin to Coltrane's A Love Supreme after Drake's chanted intro. "From the River to the Ocean" has Bankhead back on bass with Abrams moving to guimbri, a fantastic sonic pairing. Parker contributes another great solo before making way for an excellent arco bass solo from Bankhead and another fine statement from Anderson. Parker really adds a lot to the sound on this album without being overly conspicuous while doing it. Of course, Fred and Hamid really make this album work. Drake is certainly one of the finest drummer/percussionists on the planet and, despite his relative lack of renown outside Chicago, Anderson is one of the absolute greatest inside/outside tenor players there is, always moving forward but never losing sight of melody. They just never seem to run out of ideas, constantly pushing the music and finding new avenues to take. They might be known as avant-garde players, but this album is totally approachable and extremely soulful. From the River to the Ocean is not only among Anderson's finest albums to date, it has to be among the top jazz albums of 2007.
AllMusic Review by Sean Westergaard
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