Jazz has often invigorated itself over time through transfusions of the blood of other musics – musics decidedly less blue-blood than itself. Rock has, since Gary Burton’s and Charles Lloyd’s psychedelic jazz of the 60s, through Miles Davis’s Hendrix-like albums of the 70s and more current groups such as EST, given jazz a shot in the arm it has sometimes – arguably – needed.

In jazz guitar, a legion of young post-rock players have been informed by such artists as John Scofield who added heavier rock flavours and Bill Frissell who has stripped and modernized the tonality of jazz. This is a massive and sweeping generalisation but one has to start somewhere.

Melbourne guitarist Tim Willis’s band The End is undoubtedly a jazz group – free wheeling group improvisation, exciting and taut communication between players – but one within which beats a very rock heart – solid and definite backbeats, grungy guitars, not afraid to have a bit of noisy fun.

Willis has put together an intriguing combo of electric guitar, double bass and drums with a frontline of tenor (John Felstead) and alto (Jon Crompton) saxes for The End’s eponymous debut album. The twin-sax front line is a smart move, adding a layer of rock crunch and bite but with traditional jazz instrumentation. Their timbre is such that, together with the distorted guitar they make some chunky block chords, and playing in unison they take on a ringing, almost-metallic voice.

The rhythm section of Gareth Hill, acoustic bass and Nick Martyn, drums have got the balance between rock’s solid riffing and the fluid of jazz down perfectly. The guitar of Tim Willis though, is the element that excites and inflames the whole concoction. Grungy, fleet lines with blues inflections flow out of him. The heavy riffing on ‘Dark Cloud’ could be a Black Sabbath riff – ominous and sulphurous – and his solo, haloed with reverb is a standout of this collection. 

This track ‘Dark Cloud’ is a good example of the freewheeling nature of Willis’s musical vision. Halfway through, the riffing drops abruptly away and the two saxes play an intertwining two-toned solo. It is a slight shock to leap between the two styles but it illustrates what is very cool about The End – this is not jazz-rock fusion as such, the two styles seem to be given more of their own space here. It is a conceptually clearer listen than many such style-pairings, bringing to mind what was so cool about Swede Esbjörn Svensson’s EST group.

Like rock, jazz never ever really needs ‘saving’ – but groups like The End and original thinkers such as Tim Willis can, by their youthful vigour and vertical vision, sometimes help the old tart out when she loses her puff.

The End’s website is here

 

Published April 2012 on theorangepress.net

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Comments
  1. […] – that have everything we knew and loved from their 2011 debut album, The End (see my review here): the tough rhythm section of double-bassist Gareth Hill and drummer Nick Martyn, the unusual […]

  2. […] Your Chin Up, and its predecessor, The End – named for the collective Willis performs and records with – were both remarkable collections […]

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