Dan Willis and Velvet Gentlemen: The Satie Project II
On The Satie Project II, Willis leaves no stylistic stone unturned; he seems especially enamored of early 70s fusiony sounds, though this album is hardly a fusion album in the normal sense of the word. Opening with an orchestral fluorish, "Gnossienne #7" quickly takes on an aggressive drum'n'bass feel thanks to John Hollenbeck's deft polyrhythmic kit work, Pete McCann's wah-wah guitar and Ron Oswanski's percolating Wurlitzer. Gnossienne #6 gets a jaunty treatment with a two-beat rhythm and a fine solo by bassist Kermit Driscoll. Gnossienne #4 and #5 stay more-or-less true to Satie's compositional intent, and largely lack improvisation. McCann's watery guitar and Willis' English horn, along with the spooky, reverb-rich production impart a ghostly, mournful, ECM-ish lilt to both pieces. The lovely "Gnossienne #2" also has an elegiac ECM-influenced feel before it finds a bluesy backbeat behind the leader's soulful tenor. Oswanski's accordion work here recalls Dino Saluzzi's partnership with Enrico Rava. By contrast, "Gnossienne #3" takes on a Gypsy-jazz feel with additional strangeness provided by the addition of erhu to the front line, and an uncredited spoken word recitation.
"Pieces Froides" are also well-represented on The Satie Project II. These solo piano pieces were written in 1897 and, with their gentle dissonances and spare melodies, have much the same charm of Satie's better known Gymnopedies. Willis' brief readings of these leave no doubt as to Satie's influence on the Minimalists. The lush 21st Century production and subtle use of electronics are reminiscent of Wim Mertens' work with the band Soft Verdict during the 1980s. "Vexations" gets three remarkably different interpretations. The first, "Vexations Alternate 1," dresses up the Satie classic in raucous Knitting Factory jazz-thrash. "Vexations Alternate 2" continues in the same vein, spiraling inevitably towards chaos with McCann's distorted guitar and Hollenbeck's dynamic drums leading the way. The final interpretation-and the album's closing track-opens with a more-or-less straight reading, though things slowly begin to go awry as Willis picks up the EWI and Hollenbeck's transgressive drums gather steam. Unexpectedly, the music careens towards a dark, dissonant brand of jazz-rock with McCann, Oswanski's Larry Young-inspired organ and Willis' tenor out front. That Willis was able to do so much with Satie's music is more than just a monumental act of scholarship. Willis went way beyond just re- arranging the great composer's music by creating something beautiful, inspired and new, while staying true to Satie's spirit and intent. This is the ultimate act of musical understanding. The Satie Project II is a truly innovative statement; amazing if one considers that the music was written over 100 years ago.
Track Listing: Gnossienne # 7; Gnossienne # 6; Pieces Froide I; Vexations Alternate 1; Gnossienne # 5; Gnossienne # 3; Pieces Froide III; Vexations Alternate 2; Gnossienne # 4; Gnossienne # 2; Pieces Froide II; Vexations.
Personnel: Dan Willis: oboe, soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones, piccolo, English Horn, clarinet, baritone clarinet, contrabass clarinet, duduk, zurna, Chinese flute, hiririchi, yokobue and EWI; Pete McCann, electric guitar; Ron Oswanski: accordion, B3 organ, Wurlitzer, electric piano; Kermit Driscoll: electric and double bass; John Hollenbeck: drums; Richard Sosinsky: double bass (11); Todd Low: erhu; Entcho Todorov: violin; Mark Vanderpoel: electric bass (7); Pablo Reippi: marimba, vibraphone and pitched gongs.
Record Label: Daywood Drive Records
Style: Modern Jazz