Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Just Good

Fred Anderson
Originally uploaded by bsglaser.
Artists: Fred Anderson Quartet; Robert Barry and Fred Anderson
Albums: The Milwaukee Tapes Vo. 1; Duets 2001
Source: Promos

The silliest thing about being a critic of anything is the main premise of the job: deciding if something is good or bad and then explaining why. I’m in an MFA program for Art Criticism and Writing, and after nearly the full first year, I’ve yet to hear anyone explain in a cogent way how (or, maybe more importantly, why) one does this. In my years as a music critic, I eventually got a to a place where I trusted my ears pretty well, but even then it was a more or less ridiculous process of translating what my ears heard/thought into an eloquent 200 words, with a star grade (some number out of 5) at the end.

These two discs are both live recordings and feature the tenor sax playing of Fred Anderson, but that’s really all they have in common. They’re from sessions nearly a quarter century apart (Milwaukee is an Atavistic reissue of a record from 1980; Duets is from 2001), with different band configurations (the early date is a quartet, featuring the still-active, still-amazing Hamid Drake on drums; the later one is, as the title implies, all duets with percussionist Robert Barry) and essentially different aesthetics (the younger Anderson is still an AACM firebrand; his older persona a self-assured master).

The one thing they do have in common is that they’re good. Just good. Which I don’t mean as some sort of backhanded compliment, implying that they miss the “great” bar by some distance or anything. Rather, when you put either of the discs on the stereo, it’s just easy to hear how good they are—a quality that is easier to hear than to explain. They’re a pleasure, even in the spots where the music is challenging, which is probably the bulk of the total playing time. But Anderson and whomever he’s playing with are locked in ‘round the clock, whether they’re belting blues, exploring tonal freedom or just hitting a solid groove. It bypasses the hard-thinking parts of your brain and goes right to the pleasure centers, though without being spoon-fed or too easy to be worth it. The music is just good, damn good, which is all records need to be sometimes.

SISOSIG? They’re good enough, they’re smart enough, and gosh-darn it, I like both of these discs. I’m sure these will never be desert-island favorites, but they’ll always be worth having (and keeping).


  • Raney and I are reading your post and we both noticed that you seem to be keeping everything - not making much room for Eileen!!! Just shows how hard it is to part with your music. I know someone who has lots of storage space and would be happy to store some of your CDs until such a time as you have more room for them!!! Love "someone".

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:49 PM  

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