Inspired by Japanese Zen, “Illustrations”, the debut album from Canadian trumpeter/composer Andrew McAnsh, was written during his time spent in Japan throughout the summers of 2012 and 2013. It was around this time that he also became heavily influenced by the late, great Canadian born trumpeter/composer Kenny Wheeler, to which this album pays tribute. And it’s fair to say that one can hear similarities in McAnsh’s style of writing and performing, the influences coming through in a subtle way that adds extra meaning to the recording.
Music and Zen have always been intertwined in the artistic vision of McAnsh, but if you’re expecting Japanese wind chimes and existentialism from this recording, then you would be wrong. What McAnsh has done well, is incorporate his appreciation of Zen into what is, a fairly straight ahead modern jazz setting. Trumpet, saxophone, trombone, piano, bass, drums, guitar and voice make up this intriguing jazz ensemble, with the overall sound often resulting in a kind of paired down big band feel, lively and exploratory in its way of thinking.
Zen Master Dogen said: “Do not listen to the ideas of others, but learn to listen to the voice inside yourself. Your body and mind will become clear and you will realise the unity of all things.” This awakening triggered a decision to start the Andrew McAnsh Ensemble, and focus on performing original music. There is an overall connected feel to the whole album, the music working well as a whole. As one might expect from such an ambitious recording, some parts work better than others. To these ears, where it does work well, it is brilliantly written and executed. Tracks like “Seven Seconds” and “4 for 5” are outstanding. The compositions are focussed and the soloing, especially from the trumpeter himself, exemplary. There are also plenty of moments on the two-part “Utopio” and the two-part title track “Illustrations” where we can see a great composer in the making, but there are times where to my mind the writer’s thoughts get a little muddied and the resulting music can sound somewhat confused. Maybe too many ideas in one sitting, a little more reflection required. The use of a female vocalist is an interesting one. To me the voice sounds a little superfluous at times, and although I admire the composer’s intentions with the spoken words on “Confabulation”, it really doesn’t work well at all for me.
“Illustrations” is a promising debut from Andrew McAnsh. There are lots to enjoy and praise, and at the end of the day, it could well be an album that divides opinion on how well it works as an overall recording, and that has to be a good thing.