Tribal Tech co-founder Gary Willis garnered widespread critical acclaim for his 1996 solo debut No Sweat, a release that I found easy to admire but hard to love. I've grown to love Bent, the second solo effort from the talented Texas bassist. Willis takes groove music to another level on this funky and intricate CD.
Bent is a bit less dissonant and far more vigorous than its predecessor. Nine of these 11 tracks feature fat funky bottoms, hard-bopping tops, percolating polyrhythms, and inspired improvisations.
From the quirky racing bop of "Armageddon Blues" to the industrial funk of "Bent" to the sinuous grooves of "Bowlegged," these tunes slip and slide, move and groove. Moreover, Willis coaxes some great performances out of saxophonist Steve Tavaglione, drummer Dennis Chambers and keyboardist Scott Kinsey. Kinsey's electric keyboard work is especially inventive, and there's a tangible chemistry between all of these players. Tenor saxman Bob Berg also appears on three cuts, while drummer Kirk Covington plays on two.
At times the vibe reminds me of Miles Davis' Decoy, my favorite of the trumpet master's 1980s releases. Willis doesn't employ a trumpeter, but Tavaglione's EWI sounds like a muted bugle on the slithering "Hipmotize" and the smoldering "Cadillac," two tracks that are most reminiscent of the electric Miles. Tavaglione's turns his EWI into a harmonica on the surprisingly melodic "Its Only Music" and the tropical "Emancipation."
Bent is contorted improvisational music that's high-tech but full of life, and Willis' bass work is extraordinary throughout. Gary Willis is a very clever composer who's taking electric jazz to new places.