Review: Sam Anning/ Across a Field as Vast as One

Bassist/ composer Sam Anning brings his wonderfully poetic cast of mind to his third album as bandleader, ‘Across a Field as Vast as One.’

Recorded with long time collaborators trumpeter Mat Jodrell, saxophonists Julien Wilson and Carl Mackey, pianist Andrea Keller, and drummer Danny Fischer, the eight-track collection draws inspiration and ideas from lost friends, Balkan women singers, volcanic lakes, taxi conversations and aircraft wreckage gleaming in a field of sunflowers.

Of course, this is not being wilfully quirky, because Anning in his compositions pulls great emotion out of these disparate experiences and satori. ‘Across a Field as Vast as One’ is an album of great beauty that avoids the trap of complexity to focus on the emotional.

Indeed he says that his track ‘Sweethearts’ “…was a sort of rebellion against the dense and complex harmonic and melodic homework of my masters studies at the Manhattan School of Music. I just wanted two simple chords and a nice melody!”

The track jumps with a lovely West African lilt and Andrea Keller’s piano solo reflects that joy in its rising attack.

‘Sweethearts’ was the title of Anning’s 2013 album with Julien Wilson and dear departed drummer Allan Browne. Browne is remembered here on the title track which takes its title from an Anning poem:

As eyes opening for the first time

On light splattering into a

Flat natural shimmer

Across a field as vast as one

Your name is to be spoken slowly

And carefully

When I awake I’ll know we shared this dream

And I’ll l know that I loved you.

The pain of this ballad of loss and longing is expressed in the pang of Matt Jodrell’s aching trumpet tone.

Anning’s compositional smarts are to the fore throughout – the ethereal arpeggios on ‘Lake’ conjuring the deep blue waters of the Mt Gambier blue volcanic lake which inspired it; the chattering talk-like melody and human-hips groove of ‘Talking Wall,’ about a graffiti wall in Libya; the bittersweet Balkan blues of album closer ‘Telos’ (with a stunning Julien Wilson bass-clarinet solo that wails, literally and figuratively).

Anning says, tellingly, when speaking of his piece here called ‘Hands Reaching’: “[It is] a piece that came out naturally with little intervention from the deprecating voices in my head.”

I think anyone who truly creates spends half their time shouting down those deprecating voices – those voices that say the work is worthless, the effort is pointless, the world isnt listening. Hallelujah! that artists like Sam Anning consistently manage to shut that chattering homunculus up, who manage to replace the void with the life-force of their beautiful and meaningful work.

‘Across a Field as Vast as One’ is one such work – brave, beautiful and above all, the best of what it is to be human.

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