Who says that three musicians from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) playing "shaved-face music" the term given by Dizzy Gillespie for piano-less improvisational music cannot be accessible and interesting through its melodies and challenging improvisations?
This hour-long disc, recorded direct-to-digital in January 1993, has recently been released by Southport Records, a Chicago-based label that prides itself on documenting such local treasures as Anderson and his "thinking partners," bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut and drummer Ajaramu, aka A.J. Shelton. (Since this recording, Maghostut and Ajaramu have died the former in 2004 at age 76, and the latter in 2006 at age 80. Anderson, now 81, still performs occasionally at the Velvet Lounge, the performance space for improvisational music he has owned since 1982.) Should you come across this disc, prepare yourself to listen, really listen, as song-starting melodies prepare you for lengthy, challenging improvisations that involve everyone thinking and playing in totally selfless, trio-centered moments.
Black Horn Long Gone refers to the Selmer tenor saxophone Anderson played on this four-hour recording session. "I couldn’t sell that black horn nobody could play it!" Anderson tells Joanie Pallato, Southport Records’ partner, session producer, and liner note composer. While this since sold saxophone is now in parts unknown, its presence here is unique: It was the last horn Anderson played before he purchased the Selmer Series III tenor saxophone that he still has today.
Anderson, who has championed improvisation in a career that spans nearly six decades, is the lead voice and principal soloist here, but Maghostut and Ajaramu are more than time-keepers. This disc is, at its essence, a conversation in sound where Anderson’s improvisations and melodies are encouraged and commented upon call it an AACM-style "Amen Corner." Anderson and Maghostut begin "Wandering," the disc’s appropriately titled opener, in unison. Ajaramu patiently provides support mainly through the cymbals, his primary way to add commentary and color. "Wandering," the only track less than six minutes in length, shows Anderson sampling his surrounding atmosphere, not from timidity, but as an overture of sorts to prepare listeners for future genuine, more assertive improvisations to follow.
"Saxoon" succeeds because the trio shows how all available possibilities can be considered and conquered. Anderson and Maghostut, who briefly plays arco at the start, state the melody before stretching the song’s groove through various angles. After Maghostut puts his bow down, he creates new melodies, sings along through his strings with Anderson, and keeps time with Ajaramu’s cymbals and occasional drops on his snare drum. While Maghostut’s thoughts through actions show a natural connection with Anderson, the sound from his bass is sometimes harsh, as the volume and reliance on amplification are, at times, too much.
Ajaramu’s full sound is best heard on "Bernice." While his cymbals’ presence is paramount (but not overbearing) in the mix for the entire session, Ajaramu explores his entire drum kit on this, the centerpiece, by addressing his tom-toms and snare to their maximum. Ajaramu’s powers come through most here, as he provides support to Anderson and a drum dialogue as well.
Black Horn Long Gone’s "hit single," "The Strut Theme," is the catchy song referenced at this review’s start. "The Strut Theme" is this disc’s "straightest," as Maghostut favors a common-time, blues accompaniment, while Ajaramu similarly stays in the pocket with an occasional bomb drop on this tune, which Anderson still features during his current performances. Maghostut’s "walk the dog" passage provides a beautiful bridge before Anderson returns to solo and then takes this song out.
"Ode to Clifford Jordan," the closer, allows the listener a chance to eavesdrop or should that say eardrop? into what Anderson does when he arrives to open his club. He takes out his saxophone and plays unaccompanied. The solitude and naturalness--everything from the keys being pressed by creative force, inhaling, exhaling, clearing throat and race to grab all the notes envisioned in the moment give this recording the unvarnished intensity that makes it worth an investment of your time.