If you haven't heard of bassist Mary Ann McSweeney, you should. After years of work on both coasts with names like Dizzy Gillespie and the Diva Big Band, McSweeney has released a brilliantly conceived and executed album that she leads.
The fact that McSweeney leads Thoughts Of You is another reason for attention. Few bassists are leading their own groups, with the notable exceptions of, say, Dave Holland and Avishai Cohen, let alone securing recording opportunities for the groups with a nationally distributed label.
While McSweeney's buoyant work on the bass and her melodic sound capture the imagination of the listener, the true value of of Thoughts Of You is the excellence of the group's work. Ever present, McSweeney sets the tone for the tunes, as did, for example, Mingus. Her arco introduction of "Stillness" quietly and ruminatively lays down the foundation of her composition, even before soprano saxophonist Donny McCaslin and valve trombonist (and McSweeney's husband) Mike Fahn come in. From her quiet outlines of the piece, "Stillness" builds into a haunting performance not unlike Tadd Dameron's "Fontainebleau" in its harmonic achievement.
And yet, McSweeney's attitude on "R.B.'s Tribute" possesses an entirely different quality as she reminds listeners of the infectious swing of her earliest inspiration, Ray Brown. The loping bass lines, animating a modified blues, establish the tune's mood, even as she breaks into a straight 4/4 walking bass line. Fahn follows the suggestion of swing, his valve trombone an important presence on this album.
McSweeney's imagination involves the combination of seemingly conflicting ideaswhich often is a successful means to attain an inspiring synthesis. "Amazing Grace," rather than following the conventional gospel references or the sing-along slowness, instead merges Jaco Pastorius' groove from "Teen Town" with the altered melody of the tune, thereby finding a unique approach that previously had never been recorded.
Wayne Shorter, without a doubt one of the greatest of all contemporary jazz composers, is represented by "Yes And No," which the group introduces with a light Latin canonical feel before breaking out into a fast swing. McCaslin's work on this tune shines as he bends note and staggers the rhythm behind McSweeney's and drummer Tim Horner's push.
"Winter On The Bay" proves that life experiences can provide the suggestion for musical works, as McSweeney, through a jazz waltz undulation, recalls her almost tragic experience of a sailboat accident in Monterey Bay. And yet, a graceful tune that McSweeney says evolved from 5/4 to 4/4 to finally 3/4 emerges, highlighting pianist Henry Hey's effortless touch and flow, even as McSweeney breaks out in an affecting solo as well.
Thoughts Of You stands on its own as a jazz CD worthy of attention because of its creativity and outstanding performances. Now that the talents of McSweeney's group are known beyond the jazz centers of New York and Los Angeles, it should continue to claim recognition in the future.
Track Listing: R.B.'s Tribute, Stillness, Yes And No, Winter On The Way, Amazing Grace, Nana's Tango, You Don't Know What Love Is, Thoughts Of You
Personnel: Mary Ann McSweeney, bass; Mike Fahn, tenor & valve trombones; Donny McCaslin, saxophones; Henry Hey, piano & Fender Rhodes; Tim Horner, drums; Joe Mowatt, percussion