Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


Dan Willis: Dan Willis and Velvet Gentlemen: The Satie Project II

Dave Wayne By

Sign in to view read count
The music of Eric Satie may well be some of the most malleable and adaptable works ever composed. This could be partly due to the fact that Satie himself stood well outside of the musical mainstream of his time, thus his compositions are comparatively unencumbered by the stylistic baggage of his era. Satie was avant-garde before the term was coined, and is considered by many to be a precursor to the Minimalists and to the 20th Century Serialist composers such as Anton VonWebern, Arnold Schoenberg, and Alban Berg. Yet, Satie's music-like the best jazz-has great warmth and humanity. Multi- reed artist Dan Willis is something of a Satie scholar whose study of the late 19th / early 20th Century French composer has been ongoing since the mid-2000s. On this, Willis' third collection of modern-day interpretations of Satie's compositions, particular attention is paid to the Gnossiennes. On The Satie Project II, we have Gnossiennes 2 through 7; a set of slow dances, some meant to be played "with conviction... and a rigorous sadness." Numbers 1 through 3 were composed in the early 1890s and 1893, and were initially piano solos written without bar lines or time signatures. Gnossiennes 4 through 7 weren't published until 1968 though they were written between 1889 and 1897. Gnossienne #4 is the most substantial and interesting, while #7 was originally intended as incidental music for a theater piece.

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.

Title: Dan Willis and Velvet Gentlemen: The Satie Project II | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Daywood Drive Records


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Strange Days - 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Extended Analysis Strange Days - 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: December 9, 2017
Read Trouble No More - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 Extended Analysis Trouble No More - The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981
by Doug Collette
Published: November 19, 2017
Read Love, Gloom, Cash, Love Extended Analysis Love, Gloom, Cash, Love
by Patrick Burnette
Published: October 21, 2017
Read Motel Shot: Expanded Edition Extended Analysis Motel Shot: Expanded Edition
by Doug Collette
Published: July 16, 2017
Read Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe  Edition Extended Analysis Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th...
by Doug Collette
Published: May 27, 2017
Read "Chick Corea: The Musician" Extended Analysis Chick Corea: The Musician
by John Kelman
Published: May 2, 2017
Read "Love, Gloom, Cash, Love" Extended Analysis Love, Gloom, Cash, Love
by Patrick Burnette
Published: October 21, 2017
Read "Chicago II (Steven Wilson Remix)" Extended Analysis Chicago II (Steven Wilson Remix)
by John Kelman
Published: February 12, 2017
Read "Thelonious Monk: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960" Extended Analysis Thelonious Monk: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: April 9, 2017
Read "The Rascals: The Complete Singles A's & B's" Extended Analysis The Rascals: The Complete Singles A's & B's
by Doug Collette
Published: April 1, 2017
Read "Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band" Extended Analysis Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: April 3, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!