Ah, the fleeting nature of Beauty – one wink and she’s gone. A shame, that.

Melbourne pianist/composer Dan Sheehan’s Infinite Ape project with altoist John Crompton and drummer Samuel Hall is gone almost before they started, with Crompton decamped to NYC and Sheehan and Hall already moving on down other roads. Yes, a shame, that.

Or it would be had they not left us with this startling CD – Infinite Ape – seven tracks of sleight-of-hand, sonic dreams, righteous hymnals and shooting sparks. Maybe it is even more beautiful than it sounds precisely because it is a fleeting glimpse of what might have been.

Infinite ape2

Whatever. The three move so well in their bass-less three-way dance, it is a revelation. Opener ‘Prelude’ grows from sparse drum beats which soon gather piano notes around them, attracting alto shimmer like static electricity. All against a kind of suggested open grid that refuses to hold them.

The bass-less thing can be a challenge – often it can be a downright mistake, leaving the music to slip its moorings and founder in the shallows – but Sheehan and Hall move the music forward with a loose-limbed authority, its momentum never questioned. The almost rubato freer passages move as convincingly as the 10/8 ostinato of NYC altoist Tim Berne’s ‘Hard Cell’ or the sudden sinewy montuno of Sheehans’ ‘St Marks Avenue’. Here, the lack of a moving bass voice allows other surprising insinuations, grooves and meaningful silences to rise up.

The players also rise up. Jon Crompton first made me prick up my ears as part of Tim Willis’ tough guitar band, The End. There he was half of a sax section (with tenor John Felstead) that did battle with Willis’ scything rock guitar. Here he is something else entirely. Working around the outer limits of the horn, Crompton moans, mumbled, talks, spits, conjectures and preaches. I have rarely heard a player eke so much from a brass tube with some holes in it – it is not done for effect but for, yes, expression and a reach for a new colour, a new star. The sort of shit that renews my faith in jazz, you know? It’s hard to conceive the round, burnished tone on ‘St Marks Avenue’ comes out of the same pipe as the Pharoanic howls on the second Tim Berne tune here, ‘Brokelyn’.

Drummer Sam Hall too plays above and beyond the call of duty – his playing can be melodic, or pushy, or brutal, or whispered. He makes his kit talk the talk: the solo on ‘Holding Pattern’ comes out of the gate with such unblinking authority, it is almost the reason for the tune’s being; it exists as if only to wrap other notes and other sounds around this four-square force.Infinite ape1

Dan Sheehan, whose conception and compositions (largely) are the reason for Infinite Ape, moves like the ocean behind all this – his playing, whether acoustic or Rhodes, is as big as the room, whether it be a sprinkling of notes or a killer riff or – yeah!­ – big, big chords. His compositions seem the product of a free mind and a restless urge, an artist – nothing is obvious, twists and turns come at quirky angles, new words are spoke, yet it all makes its own sense, a beautiful sense.

Crompton’s  composition ‘Dazed and Confused’ is one that stands out here –  as a testament to Sheehan, Hall and Crompton’s ability to leap into such a challenging piece, to learn a new language on-the-spot and speak it like a native. The winding melody, with its leaping intervals, creates its own logic as it goes, moving through mad shadows. Hall’s gnashing percussion bites as the band transmutes the groove under Crompton’s alto, which mutters to itself like a crazy person.

It’s a hell of a thing. You don’t get a band like that every day – and now it’s gone. A shame, that.

 

Published February 2104 on australianjazz.net 

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