Mary Ann McSweeney – Thoughts Of You

Mary Ann McSweeneyMary Ann McSweeney
Thoughts Of You

(Jazz Magnet – 2001)
by John Barrett

This bass is deep: woody notes, big vibrato, and a propulsive pace that goes beyond walking. Mary Ann McSweeney blends the traditional bass approach with modern bursts of melody – “R.B.’s Tribute”, for Ray Brown, opens with a step-step-stretch-step. The theme is a blues, told by Mike Fahn on a weary trombone. He turns feisty on the solo, with Donny McCaslin likewise on tenor … all as Mary Ann stays her course. She bows the intro to “Stillness”: quite solemn, and lots of vibrato. She’s surrounded by echo, as Henry Hey floats lonely chords. Donny’s soprano is placid, giving way to Fahn’s moan – the piano resounds, and McSweeney gets busy. It’s a little disjointed, but the mood is right: a worried fog, hiding mystery in the stillness.

All of a sudden things move: “Yes and No” has a heady kick, from Tim Horner’s cymbals to the splashy piano. The sax-trombone blend is quite striking; Donny rasps as Mike burbles warmly. On his solo, McCaslin is strident – his notes slither by, brusque and bold. Fahn answers with dignity, and the luster of a French horn; Mary Ann skips strongly, and the heat is intense. Leisure reigns for “Winter on the Bay” (the rhythm waltzes slowly, while Donny takes a spin) and “Amazing Grace” rolls down a ’70s strut, on new harmonies and a Fender Rhodes. Henry Hey’s in his element, ringing the keys with loving fervor. (It reminds me of the old Creedence tune “Long as I Can See the Light”.) Congas boil, McCaslin walks the mean streets – this is an urban “Grace”, and it’s very welcome.

“Nana’s Tango” takes the famous rhythm and fits it to the contours of “You Stepped Out of a Dream”. The bass is prickly, reacting to Hey’s mannered solo. Donny moans like an oboe, zipping between some very high notes. Mary Ann then slows it down: lonely notes, vibrating broadly, all told in sadness.

The waltz returns on “You Don’t Know What Love Is” … this time in a grittier hue. The tempos keep changing but the tension stays high; here too is Fahn’s best solo, restless and rough. A trio brings us home, with “Thoughts of You”: still bass, fluttering keys, drifting brushes, and the persistent breath of romance. In the middle it gets vigorous, as Hey makes his hands wander; Horner starts slapping and the night air falls. Mary Ann starts like brown on her solo, then strums for a chimelike sound. This group is well, its tunes moody and melodic … and the thoughts are plentiful.