F. Anderson & H. Bankhead - The Great Vision Concert

Derek Taylor, Bagatellen

Each year, the Vision Festival attracts its share of disciples and detractors. Some lament the relative sameness and insularity of its line-ups. Others laud the massive amounts of hard work that go into its continued longevity. Wherever a person's position on that continuum of support, it's hard to argue against the occasional strokes of genius that arise from so many performances packed into so finite a span of time. A rare case where titular hyperbole hits a bull’s-eye, this conclave between the named Chicagoan principals still has audience members talking four years after the fact. I was present at the gig and while my memories of the actual musical particulars are a bit opaque, the celebratory reactions in the concert's wake are still vivid in my mind. The question going into first exposure of this aural document: How much of that audience adulation was a confluence of other factors at the event and how much was musically derived?

Conventional wisdom on Anderson contends that he works best with drummers, his cyclical phrasing style benefiting from responsive rhythmic frameworks that foster continued forward momentum. Bankhead fulfills that role and adds a melodic dimension that is sometimes startling in its ability to enhance Anderson’s often lean and linear improvisations. Amplified, but not overly so, his strumming pizzicato clouds at once anchor and embellish the familiar melodic cursive of the saxophonist’s blues-rooted patterns. Anderson isn’t always the most conscientious when it comes to responding to his colleagues in the moment, preferring instead to pursue his own personal agenda, sometimes stubbornly so. Bankhead recognizes and appreciates this streak of rugged individualism in his partner and doesn’t sound the least bit ruffled when Anderson’s tenor insists on tugging him one way or another. That balance of mutable support and synchronicity keeps even the lengthy “Wandering” from wending into prolix introspection. Bankhead’s elegant arco harmonics telegraph and transmute the tenorist’s internal rhythms and the ensuing interplay achieves a level of emotional resonance bordering on the seraphic. His agile inventions are so enthralling that even Anderson is moved to defer, readily acquiescing to the role reversal and switching to fluttering rhythmic accents. Concentrated and fleeting, “The Strut” neatly summarizes the synergy in evidence prior, inciting audience participation through audible handclaps in its coda.

Several weeks ago, Anderson and Bankhead played another Vision Fest set, this time with drummer Hamid Drake turning duo into an even more rhythmically combustive trio. Reports on the performance have come with the expected encomiums and the music will no doubt eventually find its way into commercial circulation. This concert taped four years earlier set the stage and still stands up to the stringent scrutiny of memory.