Sweethearts (Listen/Hear Collective)
Sam Anning Trio
Review by John Shand
When musicians play for each other rather than for themselves (or, worse, to impress) the instruments have a way of melting together, just as multiple ingredients become one dish. You hear it from the opening notes on Sweethearts, an album that in many ways is a throwback, and yet which carries the timeless relevance of three players hell-bent on praying before the altar of music, rather than before the many craven idols that easily sidetrack improvising musicians.
I say ‘throwback’ because Sam Anning’s tunes and those he chooses to interpret are embedded in a jazz tradition that has precursors in all decades between the 1920s and now, with especially strong hints of the 1950s. But were this just another attempt to recycle some form of bop it probably would have barely merited a review. What makes it so much more interesting and notable is the way that ghosts and echoes of pre-bop jazz mingle with more recent approaches in a mood of striking conviviality.
Of course drummer Allan Browne has spent over half his marvellous career playing the perky stomps, struts, rags and blues of classic jazz, and infusing them a uniquely Brownian combination of wryness, poeticism and groove. Ever since he began operating in more contemporary idioms over 40 years ago the same qualities have been evident, albeit somewhat shaken and stirred, and with more scope for his profound gifts of applying delicacy of touch and introducing telling use of space to the music.
What may have been less obvious to some is the way that Julien Wilson also draws on this pre-bop heritage. To generalise outrageously there was a tendency for bebop to make the sounds of the instruments shrink, as agility became a shiny new deity in the music. Before bop pure sound was much more a musician’s signature: sounds that had the heft to surge over the vigour of a big band and to fill a room unamplified. And if you made sounds as big on a tenor saxophone as Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster did you could afford to breathe a little; to leave some space and gather your thoughts while the vibrato of the last note lingered in the air like eye-contact between lovers. Wilson understands all this: understands that a single note played with a sound to make your hair curl is worth a thousand thin, reedy ones. His tenor carries the mass to make a tune feel better about the fact that it was ever penned. Just as importantly, he carries that attitude and weight across to his other instruments, and here he wheels out his soprano as well as his clarinet and bass clarinet. On all of them the tones are gorgeous, and the lines drip with joy and pathos and other emotions that remain wonderfully uncategorised.
Then there is the leader. Sam Anning, too, makes each note a statement, not in a look-at-me way, but so that he is constantly fortifying and invigorating the music. Like Wilson’s instruments his bass has a fatness of sound, and like Browne’s drums it has a suppleness in the enunciation of the grooves. Anning’s idea of groove is to make them deeper rather than burdening them with macho ferocity or bravura flourishes. His solos, meanwhile, echo and reiterate the traces of vulnerability that characterise the playing of his colleagues.
Anning took this recording with him to New York, where it was superlatively mixed and mastered by David Darlington. The bass is rich and thick without being overly prominent, the horns sing, and the drums nestle in the mix with the sweet touch that is such a hallmark of Browne when heard live. If you want to sample just one piece, try Wilson’s ‘Farewell’.
Sam Anning – bass
Julien Wilson – tenor & soprano saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet
Allan Browne – drums
This album is available for purchase on Bandcamp