Shreveport Stomp (Jazzhead, 2011)
Allan Browne, Marc Hannaford, Sam Anning
Review by Daniel Sheehan
It’s amazing how a performance can be inseparable to a particular time and place, and so unique to the voices involved, even when the material in question is universally well-known and frequently documented. The trio of Allan Browne, Marc Hannaford and Sam Anning create a dialogue which comes from the melding of deep personal influences and explorations over a common repertoire, with few guiding principles except to remain flexible and adventurous. The result, both in performance and in the studio, is a take on jazz tradition that is historically aware, yet unequivocally here.
Until Anning’s move to New York in late 2010, this trio was a regular feature of Browne’s long-running Monday residency at Bennetts Lane. It can be called a working band, as far as that term can really be applied to any group in the Australian improvised music scene, partly because of its longevity and regular performance, but also because the ensemble provides a periodic meeting point for these three distinct identities to converge and share their ideas over a repertoire that ranges from Jelly Roll Morton to Ornette Coleman, with large spoonfuls of Monk in between.
Shreveport Stomp is the follow-up to Homage (Jazzhead, 2009), their debut effort which won a Bell Award for Best Classic Jazz release. The album is a live recording, comprising selections from gigs at Bennetts Lane during July/August 2010. For this reason it is a quite different offering to their debut. What Shreveport Stomp captures, in a much more literal way than their previous release, is the attitude of unpretentious, free spirited conversation that characterises their live performances.
Bookended by two Monk tunes, the album heavily features the angular and rhythmic language of Hannaford, and showcases his aptitude for cascading lines and sustained melodic tension. ‘Bemsha Swing’ opens with piano, but even with the entry of bass and drums it refuses to settle into a predictable feel. ‘Light Blue’ begins with a typically Monk-like drawl, with Hannaford extracting great tension through his placement of the melody, complemented by Browne’s seemingly languorous, yet highly propulsive rhythmic crosscurrents.
The trio strikes its most gratifying medium-swing territory during Hannaford’s solo in ‘Cheryl et al’, an engaging romp from Parker to Ellington that exemplifies the larrikin humour between all players to the extent that it could make one regret not experiencing the performance firsthand. An interpretation of Brian Wilson’s ‘Wonderful’ provides the album’s greatest contrast, established by Anning before Hannaford steers the group through a tangential solo. The track settles into subdued, rock ballad territory whilst retaining the same sense of free-flowing dialogue, and developing into a very satisfying climax.
Hannaford’s study of jazz piano tradition is showcased in the title track with remarkable depth and mastery; when he plays stride, it is neither the parody nor the pastiche that so often results from the revival of early jazz techniques. Jelly Roll Morton’s ‘Shreveport Stomp’ is one of the oldest compositions in recorded jazz history, yet here it makes a complete leap into contemporary repertoire as the album’s longest track.
As an album, Shreveport Stomp does not achieve the same level of polish as its predecessor, both in terms of arrangement and recording quality, and the piano dominates the soundscape at times when the cumulative whole of the trio could be mixed to better effect. Yet the more I listen to this album, the more amazed I am at the trio’s ability to converse freely without preconception. What this group offers is one of the more noteworthy contributions to traditional repertoire in Australian jazz discourse. They are not mere retrospective stylists, yet all exhibit an abiding scholarship for their music’s history. The result is music that cannot be heard in any other time or place.