“Limpidly and absolutely beautiful, this is a wonderful recording that seems tailor-made for late-night listening...” according to Cadence. Chris takes six standards that everyone knows and re-creates them as stunningly original and profoundly moving compositions—a must for anyone who loves piano, whether classical or jazz. One listen and you’ll know why Charlie Parker just had to play with Chris—and why Herbie Hancock still cops licks from Chris’ harmonies to this day. Rudy van Gelder did the recording; the piano sound is by far the best he’s ever done. Fred Kaplan agrees, “Should satisfy the most demanding sonic purists...” (#AS0197) (#AS0198)
IF YOU ENJOY SOLO BALLADS, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT:
(Chris Anderson: Solo Ballads)
Van Gelder couldn’t have been the wizard behind the dials because of that map in the gatefold, detailing the positions and the types of microphones—the sort of information that Mr. Van G., as a matter of strict policy, has never publicly revealed. I asked Van Gelder about this, and his reply was startling. “Oh, that map!” he exclaimed. “They made that all up. It bears absolutely no resemblance to what went down at that session. Some of those mikes they mention, I didn’t even have at that time.” Why would anybody invent something like that and in such detail? “I have no idea,” he said. “But I’m glad you’re finally going to straighten this out.”
Is that what I’m doing here? Jim Anderson, an engineer whose name shows up on as many jazz records these days as Van Gelder’s did thirty to forty years ago, has his own doubts about this tale. “I wouldn’t be surprised,” Anderson said, “If Rudy told you that story just to cover up the fact that someone at Impluse! Took notes and really did reveal what mikes he was using.” And so, the mystery and the mystique still linger…
Van Gelder, of course, is still very active (and secretive) in his studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Many fans of his early works and techniques (two-channel, minimal EQ and gate-reverb) have disparaged many of the recordings he’s put out over the past few decades (which seem to feature multi-channel with gobs of EQ and re-verb). However, at least one new Van Gelder date should satisfy the most demanding sonic purists—a recording by the pianist Chris Anderson called Solo Ballads, on the obscure Alsut label. I am doubly pleased to be touring this disc because Anderson, at the age of 71, may be the most unjustly neglected jazz pianist—maybe jazz musician—of our time. He’s as unlikely a master as you’re likely to see: practically a midget, missing most of his teeth, blind since his teen years, one leg substantially shorter than the other. Musically, he doesn’t fit the usual criteria, either. He tends to dart disjunctively around the keyboard switching time, tempo, and key, as the mood grabs him. He barely keeps a rhythm. Swing, except in rare passages, doesn’t begin to enter the picture.
So why is Solo Ballads worth hunting down? Why do so many of his better-known peers (Herbie Hancock, Barry Harris, Charlie Haden) sing his praises with zest? Because Chris Anderson, though completely self-taught, has a way with harmonies—with the variety of inner voicings that can be coaxed from a chord, with the variety of chords that can be latched onto a melody line—that no other jazz musician possesses. He was fascinated, in his youth, with the emotional sweep of 1940s movie scores, the harmonic complexities of Duke Ellington and Art Tatum and the lush orchestral colors of Debussy and Ravel. (There’s a lot of Debussy in Anderson’s playing; his opening to “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” sounds like the Preludes.) Yet he weaves these diverse influences into a coherent, if often roundabout, pattern; they’re not just glopped on as some affected allusion. This is an album of romantic, even love-sick music: stormy and ceaselessly searching. It consists, as the title suggests, of standard ballads, mainly by Ellington and Strayhorn, and Anderson, clearly in love with all of them, takes them for long (four of the disc’s six tunes go on for more than ten minutes), sometimes maddening, but always riveting rides.
Van Gelder? He goes for an up-close sound and maybe it’s a bit dry, but he captures what Anderson does with a piano—the dazzling palette of colors, the oblique overtones, the subtle pedal work—more completely and realistically than anyone ever has. If you can’t find this record at the stores, order it.
Lee Lo’s Jazz Newsletter:
Chris Anderson: Solo Ballads
Chicago-born pianist Chris Anderson has graced our NY scene since 1960 when he arrived as an accompanist for vocal great Dinah Washington and decided to stay. Anderson’s harmonic complexity and unfailing accessibility has won him a deservedly devoted audience. When you listen to this collection of famous ballads from “Sophisticated Lady” to “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square,” you will undoubtedly join the ranks of travelers who will always want to return to Andersonville. As pianist Barry Harris notes in his informative liner comments, Chris used to work in a record store in Chicago and heard all the greats of mid-century piano, Hines, Tatum, Waller. He also was a great fan of movie music, a love that has enriched his music even as he became progressively blind. One of the many highlights of this new release, produced by Al Sutton, a longtime Anderson admirer, is the subtle ways in which Anderson quotes subtly and effectively from movie scores.
Chris Anderson (5) is a senior player who began performing in Chicago in the 1950s. Still little known, he is a musician of startling profundity. There might be nothing too unusual about an all-ballad program that consists of three Ellington tunes, a Strayhorn, and two standards, except that Anderson’s lasts 72 minutes. Anderson doesn’t so much stretch out as dig deeper and deeper into the harmonic possibilities of the tunes, in an extraordinary session that seems to dissolve time. Limpidly and absolutely beautiful, this is a wonderful recording that seems tailor-made for late-night listening-listening, that is, because this is the furthest thing from background music. In its own way the most demanding of these recordings, it may also be the most rewarding.
New York-based pianist Chris Anderson is willing to take chances with the most beloved compositions of Ellington and Strayhorn. The longtime Chicago musician sometimes even tests listeners to locate the lead line. Hid harmonic choices are daringly complex on “Sophisticated Lady,” “I Got It Bad,” “In a Sentimental Mood” and “Lush Life.” His contemplative pauses and minor moves convey thoughtful beauty. Anderson has been performing his distinctly different piano sound for more than 40 years. I’m a new fan and in strong accord with pianist Barry Harris, who writes in the liner notes, “I love him. So now, you listen!”
By Jim Merod
Sophisticated Lady; I Got It Bad; In A Sentimental Mood; Lush Life; Have You Met Miss Jones; A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square
I was reminded of the legendary but hard-to-find pianist Chris Anderson from bassist Charlie Haden, who had recently recorded a duo album with Anderson. I first heard about Anderson’s remarkable gifts as a musician from saxophonist Clifford Jordan. The understated Jordan pointed to Anderson as a rare bird among pigeons, the sort of musician who makes someone like Jordan “think new again.”
That was the phrase Clifford used. Think. New. Again. That phrase is telling, a ground zero index for a musician as yet (at that moment) unheard. The phrase was and still is stunning, in fact accurate, and all the more arresting because it was uttered by a musician (Jordan) who enjoyed horsing around and joshing until daylight, but who never teased or exaggerated about his own musical judgments.
It is reported that pianist Anderson was on tour with the spellbinding Dinah Washington in 1960. That gig brought him to New York City, his home ever since. How and why this marvelous musician has remained an inaccessible underground legend is no doubt a story worth exploring. But here in Solo Ballads we have Anderson’s probing touch exploring three standards from Ellington and on e from Strayhorn. We have Rudy Van Gelder’s best work in many years on one of the two splendid Steinway pianos available in his Englewood Cliffs studio. In sum, we have a very special recording.
Begin with Strayhorn’s inaugural professional composition, “Lush Life.” You’ve never heard it voiced as it is here. Anderson’s approach is almost deconstructive. In truth, it is re-constructive—slowing the tempo nearly to a halt as this chord (unusual) is found and that one (improbable) is left to hang tantalizingly, while another somewhat dark cluster is sought, discovered, and executed caringly.
You will find yourself mesmerized by the fragile delicacy of Anderson’s touch. And by the warm acoustic fullness of the piano’s spectral breadth that Van Gelder captured with enormous tactile veracity. Surely Rudy V.G. was in on the sweetness of the moment here. This is a rare recording of a rare moment in a studio by a rare player with a unique sense of time and lyrical deliberation. You may well shake your head as “Lush Life” meanders soothingly, searchingly across its fourteen-plus minute tour. What was it that pianist, Mr. Anderson, just said? Huh?…lets go back and listen once more.
Perhaps the closest analogy to the “inside” quality of Chris Anderson’s playing, its seriousness and philosophical calm, is the set of solo recordings that Thelonious Monk made for Orrin Keepnews at Riverside in the ‘50s. The philosophical equivalent of these solo ruminations, in each instance, is Ludwig Wittgenstein in his later years—a mind wholly devoted to the discovery and articulation of the precise statement in an attempt to approach the elusive meaning of a thing, fact, feeling, insight, or shred of being. Such minds do not seduce their witnesses. One must bear a measure of responsibility for hearing what their rigorous tasks demand of them. One must, as a witness, participate vicanously in their explorations since such minds are devoted to the fine, slight dynamics of essentially unseen (unheard) nuances.
That is Chris Anderson’s musical self-exile on this nearly seventy-two minute excavation of six strong compositions, songs that every jazz listener knows quite well. His listener is invited to a private seminar. Professor Anderson speaks carefully as the impulse to say wheat seems “there” worth saying, what is available for uncliched telling, strikes him. Beware. You will be moving at a slower pace than you expect. You will be asked to quiet your confused inner realm and open to another kind of musical breathing.
Do not misunderstand. This instructor is not tricking you or turning your hope to understand, and enjoy, his ruminations into impossible clues or surreal fragments. On the contrary, Anderson’s playing is fluid even as it is extraordinarily deliberate. You have never heard any of these six compositions remade like they are on this album. As a witness, you are over-hearing a musical mind of unique complexity and depth. At moments you may smile at the sweetness of the somber jokes. Or wince with Anderson’s self-imposed placement into a dark melodic or harmonic corner—from which his calm, relaxed escape is (perhaps) one of the most profound delights to be rendered.
These well-worn gems become childlike recreations under Chris Anderson’s hands. They are compositional rethinkings essentially from ground zero. Solo Ballads allow you to hear them anew. If you do, perhaps, in the presence of Chris Anderson’s gentle welcome, you may (as Clifford Jordan said) think new again.