From the early 1980s to his death in 2010, saxophonist Fred Anderson ran the Velvet Lounge in Chicago’s South Loop. It became the epicenter of the city’s avant-garde jazz scene, and a place where like-minded musicians came from all around to grace the venue’s hallowed ground. “People don’t come to the Velvet to hang out,” Anderson once told the New York Times. “They come to listen to music. It’s a happy place to play.” More recently, Chicago bassist Junius Paul—a Velvet Lounge alum—said that his album, Ism, was partially influenced by the Sunday night jam sessions he used to attend there. “A lot of my good friends and a lot of people who are on the album come from that,” he recalled. “The beginnings of those relationships started at the Velvet Lounge.”
On a random night in December 1994, Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo made his way to the Velvet Lounge and sat in with Anderson, drummer Hamid Drake, and bassist Tatsu Aoki for a gig. Bartender Clarence Bright captured the performance on a DAT recorder; Aoki transferred the music to a CD that he kept for 20 years. Wear and tear took its toll on the disc: It skipped terribly and the audio had to be extracted with hi-tech equipment. Live Volume V captures an hour’s worth of the quartet’s wide-ranging set, from the sprawling 28-minute opener, “Analog Breakdown,” to the 16-minute concluding track, “Era of Rocks,” which seethes with the nervous grit of a psych-rock song, dipping between grunge and hard bop without veering off-course. The entire set brims with the same kind of intensity: Kondo launches “Analog Breakdown” with a screeching electric trumpet solo, and by the 14-minute mark, the players scale back and Anderson fills the composition with screeching saxophone wails, matching Kondo’s intensity. In the end, Live Volume V is another testament to the Velvet Lounge’s grand artistry, and one more peek behind the veil of a revered Chicago institution.