In an era when over-thought and over-produced seems to be the profitable formula pervading the music scene, it's refreshing to see that organic, old-fashioned musicianship can still find a crack in the armor through which to breathe. From The River To The Ocean, the latest record from jazz duo Fred Anderson and Hamid Drake, exemplifies the bygone era when an artist's desire to express themselves with pure and unfiltered conviction was not dismissed as a novelty. It also proves that jazz can retain its ability to entertain and relax, while at once being gloriously removed from the comatose "smooth jazz" elements that have recently defined the genre.
Opening track "Planert E" is a brilliant send-up referencing the glory years of jazz's prime. The "E" in the song title could easily be a reference to ecstasy, as the interplay and improvisation between the musicians ascends to an orgasmic climax after a dazzling 14 minute-plus intro. In light of the current state of jazz radio, it almost seems like this music does hail from another planet; the fact that the only vocals sung on the album are not in English (as heard on the song "For Brother Thompson") makes the sentiment all the more intriguing.
From The River To The Ocean can easily transport the listener back in time to the Cotton Club-style "gin joints" of days long past, with the audience tapping its collective foot as the duo executes its craft. And if you concentrate carefully, you should be able to feel the spirits of Armstrong, Ellington, and other jazz greats illuminating the din. - Justin Thomas