Fred Anderson has been a creative force in the Chicago scene since the 1960s and was a founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians during that period. Still it wasn’t till the early 1990s that he began to get his due. Since then, various labels, perhaps most notably Chicago’s Okka Disk, have documented his work while his frequent live shows have won rave reviews. Still even the best performers have off moments and I can’t help but think that the over two hours of music contained on the two disc set Live at the Velvet Lounge Volume Two is made up disproportionately of those off moments.
The venue can’t be blamed for this as it was the Velvet Lounge - a Chicago club that Anderson both owns and plays regularly at. Additionally, the CD booklet lists the music as coming from the "1999 season" so it does not appear that the release was hampered by having to come from just one or two nights worth of music.
Nor are his accompanists anything short of stellar. Hamid Drake is one of the most accomplished and creative drummers in the world while Jeff Parker, still in his early thirties, is a very inventive guitarist. And Tatsu Aoki has showed his talents on the upright in numerous other settings. All three have played and recorded with Anderson before and, to be fair, deliver fine performances. Drake is his usual hard grooving self while Parker sounds like Wes Montgomery if Montgomery had ever found himself on stage with Archie Shepp. Aoki even manages to show that he just might be most enjoyable bass player in the world today when it comes to solos. His opportunity to shine during "Jeff’s Turnaround," the third and final cut of the second disc, is by far my favorite moment on these two discs. For his part, Anderson is enjoyable throughout Live at the Velvet Lounge Volume Two.
Still, for whatever reason, the music just doesn’t click and never becomes more than the sum of its parts. Despite many ostensible differences between the six tracks that make up both discs, there is a certain sameness to them and the music gets more than a bit monotonous. That all of the cuts clock in at over 12 minutes -and two last for over half an hour- exacerbates this problem. Still given the stature and abilities of the members of this quartet, the music is interesting if only to see such players not hitting everything on full cylinders and showing fallibility.