Posts Tagged ‘Dan Sheehan’

When I reviewed Melbourne guitarist/composer Tim Willis’ 2012 release Keep Your Chin Up, I referred to his music as ‘jazz for the Miasma Age’. It is not jazz or post-rock or contemporary classical music or minimalism and yet is all of the above. Beautifully.

Keep Your Chin Up, and its predecessor, The End – named for the collective Willis performs and records with – were both remarkable collections of music that springs from a mind equally free and grounded: the melodic invention is playful, almost colourful, yet the arrangements are tight as skin.

Willis’ new album – called Night and Day for the six-part suite that dominates it – has The End expanded from a five-piece rock-and-roll band to an eight-piece mini-orchestra, adding Dan Sheehan on piano, Brae Grimes on trumpet and a second electric guitarist, Dan Mamrot.

Tim Willis Night and Day

Altoist Jack Beeche and bassist Gareth Hill are carried over from the earlier group, with drummer Sam Young and tenor Kieran Hensey brought in, new.

The Night and Day suite was written for the PBS106.7 Young Elder of Jazz Commission and premiered at the 2013 Melbourne International Jazz Festival. I can imagine the mix of reactions among the festival goers at Willis’ uncompromising and entirely original approach.

Yet, despite the expanded palette of harmonies and timbres afforded by the larger band, Willis keeps a firm hand on the tiller throughout – his characteristic minimalistic and repetitive touches are all here, as well as the timbral and melodic surprises which playfully dent and scratch the sheen of his music.

The suite begins with ‘Night’ and moves through six degrees to ‘Day’. Willis’ night, far from being a dead dark empty void, is alive with rhythm and restless energy – of carnal human fun? of animals skittering on the hunt? of water and wind rattling in the moonlight? This night is relentless and propulsive, running on hammered eighth-notes, unstoppable as sex.

‘Cold’ kills the night-life off with long repeated grey chords only answered with patches of silence. ‘Dark’s guitars are reminiscent of the Black Sabbath flavours of the earlier End albums; Willis’ solo here reminding me how much I enjoy listening to composers when they improvise – like Frank Zappa or Gil Evans, Willis is shaping his solo as he shapes his compositions.Tim Willis Night and Day 2

‘Dark’ moves into a stabbing sixteenth-note texture that has a cry inside – the Dark here is not just environmental but in our sad hearts.

‘Dawn’ pushes a brighter tonality on and on, yet it feels more of hoping against hope, than one of hope. All of this music is deeply affecting, and has a sorrow either inside it or halo’ing it – Willis suggests and expresses the complexity of our feelings as humans; happiness is built on sadness, sorrow is almost a natural state.

The clipped syncopations of ‘Thaw’ push against that sorrow, sparring from all sides. The guitars have a King Crimson insistence and dark edge. Hill’s bass solo preludes a complex series of sound-pictures in the coda: morning sunlight on rocks, dripping icicles, wet branches.

When ‘Day’ comes, it is with a sense of joy over a heavy rock snare – Willis plays games with timbre and harmony across the final suite track: whether under horn solos, blazing ensemble sections or limpid sparse ghost-harmonies. ‘Day’ is the mirror of ‘Night’ but only a slightly more polished mirror. Nature continues unrelenting, whether under the gibbous moon or the white sun.

Night and Day is rounded out by two Willis originals – as equally fascinating in their shape and ideas as the suite – ‘Alone’ and ‘A Better Place’.

It has taken me more than half the year to find the album that is easily the best thing I have heard in 2015. For invention and a truly clear-eyed, uncompromised vision, Night and Day gets the guernsey. It is my only sad that my words can barely get across what a wonderful musical and poetic experience this album is. I guess you will just have to listen to it for yourself.


Published August 2015 on



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