Clifton Anderson: And So We Carry On

For approximately half his life and the lion’s share of his career, 55-year-old trombonist Clifton Anderson has suffered by comparison as the only other horn player onstage in a band with his uncle, the incomparable improviser Sonny Rollins. But Anderson’s perseverance over the decades has provided an increasingly stronger foil for Rollins, and steadily more satisfying records on the rare occasions when he chooses to set his own agenda.

Despite the time lag between them, And So We Carry On hews closely to the template of, Landmarks (1996) and Decade (2008). The playlist consists primarily of Anderson originals, including at least a couple of loving tributes, a hard-bop gem or two, a buoyant calypso and a creamy ballad. Covers that could be hackneyed standards or pop treacle are buffed with fresh arrangements and inspired interplay. And the personnel are remarkably similar, with the majority of musicians from both his previous records again onboard.

But the upgrades are tangible, born of Anderson’s due diligence to his art and his craft. As a songwriter his paeans are sharper, the emotional thrust better articulated, be it the loving sonic massage for his mother on “Alexer Is” or the high-five celebration of his strong-willed wife on “Niokim.” As a player, he still eschews the splats, slurs and mugging slides that are the default crowd-pleasers of his instrument. Instead, he favors the clean, clear tone that better showcases the improvements in his nimble bop hopscotch and balladic blues nuance-and check out his extraordinary mute work on “Remember This.”

As for the players, why change when you can have the lustrous timbre of trumpeter Wallace Roney on that ballad for your mother, or a Jamaican-born maestro like pianist Monty Alexander goosing your calypso? That said, the few new additions are superb, particularly the dynamic rhythmic duo of drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and vibraphonist Warren Wolf, whose only two songs bookend the disc in glorious fashion, their inventive fusillade helping to grease the skids around Anderson’s rotund tonality.