Allan Browne Trio

Allan Browne res
Allan Browne

Sound Lounge, July 13

With Marc Hannaford soon off to New York indefinitely here was a last chance for Sydneysiders to hear this exceptional Melbourne band in its current guise.

Hannaford is among the most versatile, distinctive, imaginative and musically well-read of all Australian jazz pianists. Combining his questing mind with Allan Browne’s warmth and earthier instincts, this has been the most intriguing of the veteran drummer’s many trios. A key overlap has been their shared interest in drawing on the complete history of jazz, and making it idiomatically all one.

Others have done this, of course, including jazz’s most significant female instrumentalist and composer, Mary Lou Williams. It was Hannaford’s idea to intermingle Williams’ Zodiac Suite (1945) with Karlheinz Stockhausen’s 1974 composition Tierkreis (German for Zodiac), to create the trio’s current album, Lost in the Stars.

The very concept tells you much about Hannaford’s breadth of listening and holistic approach to music-making. As well as the album works, however, the material was even better live, with the force of character of the trio – completed by the brilliant young bassist Samuel Pankhurst – melding the music of these two wildly divergent composers into a credible single entity.

The three players shared equal responsibility for this success, with Pankhurst’s spidery bowed harmonics on Stockhausen’s Virgo among the evening’s most enthralling improvising. Hannaford, meanwhile, had a penchant for spicing the music with unexpected harmonies. If there was a certain austerity implicit in much of his work it was leavened by veiled humour – part of his connection with Thelonious Monk – and countered by the tenderness of his playing on Mal Waldron’s Warm Canto.

Good humour has always been a hallmark of Browne’s playing. It effervesces from his drumming like bubbles escaping from the prosaic confines of a champagne glass, although he, too could pull back to soft, sparse and exquisite mallet sounds on occasion.

The one piece that did not quite succeed was Williams’s Leo, which, more for compositional than performance reasons, seemed rather clunky.