Posts Tagged ‘Tim Willis’

Alto saxophonist Jack Beeche works well with guitarists. I last heard him with Melbourne guitarist Tim Willis where his playing had to work within Willis’ metal-jazz format. On this new recording, Beeche/Magnusson, a duets recording with Stephen Magnusson, he is playing very different horn with a very different guitarist.

Magnusson is, across the album, an entirely atmospheric and sympathetic player in the luminous mold of Pat Metheny (the version here of Metheny’s ‘Katelkin Gray’ is a high point of the album) – which is not to take away from his own, entirely distinctive voice. His use of effects is sparing – often the guitar is unadorned, as the tune demands – but when used, add a lovely shimmer or widescreen reverb under and around Beeche’s pearlescent horn.

Beeche Mag 2

And pearlescent Beeche’s playing is – the notes drop like pearls, not diamond polished, but iridescently haloed. The intimate duet format allows all the nuances in his playing to be heard; the room-sized dynamic allows the horn to breathe, rather than to be pushed into a harsher tone. it is a side of the alto that is all too rarely heard today.

Beeche/Magnusson‘s seventeen (yes, seventeen) tracks work through the spectrum of possibilities of the alto/guitar combination – from the Hot Club joie-swing of ‘The Gift’ and ‘Wings’ through to impressionistic ballads like Beeche’s lovely ‘Golden Blue’ and all points between.Beeche Mag 1

The standards are well chosen and perfectly realised: “I’ll Remember April’ is contrapuntal tentacles wrapping like vines around the melody; ‘Darn That Dream is made more dream than dare by Magnusson’s translucent reverb. The closer, a 6-minute meditation on ‘Softly, As a Morning Sunrise’ seems to construct the piece from the outer edge inwards, from miasma to form, as it goes. Rock and roll too – Soundgarden‘s ‘Black Hole Sun’ is recast as the lost Bossa Nova standard we always knew it was.

Separating the tracks are five bijou miniatures, all titled ‘Image 1’, ‘Image 2’ etc… They are short improvisations barely over 2 minutes long (the shortest is 44 seconds) that are complete little gems, some sparkling and sharp, some smooth and opaque.

Beeche and Magnusson have made one of the better duet albums in Australian Jazz. Maybe, as they are both in demand and busy players, it will be the first and last. If it is, it is a treasure. If it isn’t, it is a gift that we hope keeps on giving.

 

Beeche/Magnusson is available from http://newmarketmusic.com

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 australianjazz.net

 

 

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 

Guitarist and composer Jessica Green saved me.

Depressed after listening through a covermount CD that came with a recent Blues magazine, her new album Tinkly Tinkly put a big goofy grin right across my face. (Now, I love the Blues dearly but it all is starting to sound the same – new Blues artists seem so scared of losing market share they opt for the tiresomely obvious and the well-worn over new ideas. Can this be the same music that is stamped with the character of great innovators such as Hubert Sumlin and T-Bone Walker?)

Wearily replacing the covermount with Tinkly Tinkly I was sat straight up by the loping township jive of album opener ‘Bamako Youth’. For the next 11:12 I followed the track through chirpy sax motif, tough fusion solo from Green, a Paul Simon-ish vocal section (again by Green – great lyric!) and a coda of massed horns and Matt Keegan’s snarling outro solo. Unlike the drab Blues-by-numbers that had brought me down, this track told a story and took me willingly along its dusty African road.

JessGreensBrightSparksSepia SIMA

The next track ‘Orange Rock Song’ was equally thrilling in its twists and turns, its unexpected rhythms, horn voicings and snaky riffs. Unlike the Blues-under-glass, this track and every one that followed showed Green and her band – the aptly named Bright Sparks – willing to experiment, take chances and strike out for the unknown.

I hear this a lot now in Australian jazz: younger players such as The Alcohotlicks, Aaron Flower, Tim Willis in Melbourne and anyone named Hauptmann (James and Zoe are two of the Bright Sparks on this album) taking the freedom and chops of Jazz as a starting point and filtering it through the kaleidoscopic lenses of rock, electronica, bluegrass, trip- and hip-hop. These mongrel musics – as in nature – cannot help but strengthen and invigorate the music nominally called Jazz.jess green 1

The title track ‘Tinkly Tinkly’ is a good case. Starting with percussionist Bree van Reyk’s glockenspiel-like intro, a building eighth-note lattice of harmony is built until a heavy guitar solo from Green pushes the tune over its tipping point into a jabbing 6/8 riff that could be a cousin of Weather Report’s ‘Boogie Woogie Waltz’. It all hangs beautifully together in a deceptively simple manner, but you are always aware there is a shrewd compositional mind behind it.

The moody blues of ‘The Alias’ transforming into a lop-sided oom-pah under Dan Junor’s alto solo; the ambience and snaggle of ‘Rothko’ (I could see the painter’s glowing colours at times here); the ominous leaden riff of ‘Postcard for Alice’ reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s ‘Filthy Habits’ leading into a sprightly latin 6/8 under Simon Ferenci’s spitting trumpet and back again; the hilarious high-spirits of party-jam ‘Dear Mr Cave’; transformation, play, smart decisions, seeking and finding – wonderful stuff from a bright spark.

Thanks for saving me, Ms Green, from a fate worse than deaf.

_____________________________________________________

Prior to posting this review I asked Jessica Green a few short questions. Here are her responses:

1. You have recently completed your new album Tinkly Tinkly. What was the moment that told you now was the time to record?

Well the first session was 4 years ago, so it’s hard to actually remember! This project is way overdue really, we’ve had a bunch of new good tunes kicking around for ages, more appropriately the question might be “when did I know it was time to release” which was having a good tax return to fund it!!

2. Jazz nowadays – especially releases by younger players – seems to really stretch the genre thing. Tinkly Tinkly has heavy Zappa-esque rock grooves quite happily cheek-by-jowl with New Orleans joyful blues; what is it that you enjoy about mashing (and even utterly ignoring) genre divides?

Well I suppose it’s difficult for me NOT to mash up. This is how I hear music. I am heavily influenced by Zappa (I played in Sydney Zappa band Petulant Frenzy for a year) but also I’ve grown up listening to so much different music. I like to tell a story that leads the listener to unexpected places.

3. Your Bright Sparks really are quite a cast of the best and the brightest – how do you settle on your players?

Well this band had been around for a while. I loved their originality and talent right from the beginning, and at that time I was relying on recommendations. I’m just lucky they keep agreeing to play with the group!

What makes a lot of the songs work is their unique personalities coming through, I’ve always aspired to this sort of band, right from first hearing and reading about the way Duke Ellington worked. He wrote for each player.

4. As a guitar player myself, I am always interested in what makes a player settle on a particular weapon of choice. You seem to have your beautiful Telecaster Thinline in every pic i have seen of you – why the Tele Thinline?

The Thinline was a recommendation from James Muller. I was trying to find a lighter guitar and when I tried this one I was hooked!

It’s such a versatile guitar which suits my music. It can be warm as well as have lots of bite!

5. What are your thoughts on jazz on Australia today?

Seems pretty healthy to me! There’s a lot if experimentation but also it’s great to see a lot if younger players embracing some of the earlier styles of jazz and blues and making it their own.

6. What are your thoughts on today’s music outside of jazz?

Mmm I do listen to a lot of cross over indie pop/rock. I love what bands like St Vincent, Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear are doing and also groups that are under the New Music banner. Particularly in Australia there is some really interesting music being made.

For more information visit: http://jessgreen.com.au/

To hear and buy the album, go to http://jessgreensbrightsparks.bandcamp.com/

Label: Yum Yum Tree http://www.yumyumtree.com.au

Published February 2103 on australianjazz.net 

When the bands and polemicists of Punk Rock created their Year Zero circa 1977, they ushered in a new age of creative play in music. The 20th century had already gone through a Jazz Age from the roaring 20s through to the late 50s, when it was supplanted by Elvis et al (artists who the Punks’ frenzy and danger ironically mirrored) and the new Rock Age.

When the Punks decided it was time to wash the past away, their theories (if not always their practice) opened rock music up – a dam-busting which gave birth to Punk’s obsessively creative monster children: New Wave and Post-Rock. Musically it was the Miasma Age, where anything goes and the only artists sticking to the bindings of a particular genre were those who did so out of purism, zealotry or blind love.

It is obvious and plain that this Big Bang still reverberates today – but a bright surprise that it is present in non-Rock musics, such as Jazz.

Melbourne guitarist Tim Willis and his band, The End, have as much rock going on in their jazz as jazz in their rock – and who cares anyway? In the Miasma Age, this is what all music should sound like. The End’s second album, Keep Your Chin Up is eight tracks of sublimely creative music that packs a funky rock-edged punch.

Openers ‘Chers Amis’ and ‘Save Me From The Rednecks’ are a pair of great rockers – the first brisk with a tautly unfolding jazz solo from Willis, the second a muggy half-time skank – 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 twinning of the alto and tenor saxes of Jon Crompton and John Felstead, and the heavy powerchords/fleet jazz lines of Tim Willis.

But it is the third piece, the evocatively named homage to Willis’s partner ‘Lying On Her Bed Listening To Steve Reich’ that shows how far the band has evolved in the short time between The End and Keep Your Chin Up. The piece is built on a lattice of stabbing eighth-notes that fade in and out, leading to a remarkable middle section where the band passes these eighth-notes around almost mechanically, yet to extraordinary effect – mirroring the music of minimalist maestro Reich. It’s jazz, Jim, but not as you know it.

Extra horn player Jack Beeche is brought in for the meshed sax harmonies of Jon Crompton’s piece ‘The Rose’ which rolls along on a heavy blues-boogie shuffle over which Willis solos entirely unhinged but in complete control. Title track ‘Keep Your Chin Up’ has a strutting swagger that reflects its positive title. (Willis dedicates the album to his sister’s courage during her battle with breast cancer).

The drive and looped melody of ‘It’ll Be Ok… No It Won’t’ calls to mind 70s proggers Van Der Graaf Generator more than it calls to mind any Jazz artist I can think of. And why not? Such is the nature of Jazz in the Miasma Age – and this is one of the best bands and albums of this Age.

The End’s website is here – www.timwillis.com.au

________________________________________________________________

Prior to publishing this review, TheOrangePress asked Tim Willis for his top 5 ROCK albums. Here are his responses:

1. Jimi Hendrix – Axis Bold As love
I love this album cause Jimi plays his arse off on every track and it has some of his most beautiful and most rockin’ tunes. I love albums where you can listen to every tune and not want to skip through it, this is one of those. It sounds so raw and energetic, it’s still so fresh and exciting!

2. The Beatles – Abbey Road
Fantastic songs and I love the way the album flows from one song to the next. I love the lesser known tunes on this album such as I want you (She’s so Heavy) and  you never give me your money.

3. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine
This album made me want to join the young socialists and burn down the local Liberal Party member’s office. It rocks out hard and has some fantastic grooves. It’s so angry and you can feel all that in the music.

4. Radiohead – OK Computer
Once again, It’s an album  where you can listen to the whole thing without skipping through tracks…every song is gold and has it’s own story to tell. The overall mood is one of melancholy and loneliness, it’s beautiful.

5. Faith No More – King For A Day Fool For A Lifetime
I love this band because they are impossible to categorize and every-time they do something new it’s different and out of left field. Standout moments on this album are Richochet, Evidence, Cuckoo for Ca Ca, Star A.D. and Just A Man.  This Album rocks out hard and has something for everyone!

Published June 2012 on theorangepress.net

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