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Dan Willis: Velvet Gentlemen

Budd Kopman By

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Just like you need know nothing about cryptography to enjoy and be blown away by Rudresh Mahanthappa's Codebook, you need no knowledge of Erik Satie (his music, or his idiosyncratic dressing habits) or Werner Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle to appreciate and get lost in Velvet Gentlemen. (Both of the above ideas inspired Dan Willis in various ways during the creation of the music for this record.)

To be honest, just listening to the record without attempting to look for links to the brainy subjects will most likely bring some of following ideas to mind: multi-layered, eclectic influences, adept use of electronics, floating, constant change, rhythmic variety and varying moods. There's a lot going on in each track, with everything mutating, mixing, submerging and swirling as it proceeds.

Velvet Gentlemen is an exceptional example of everything that is right with the attitude of the modern jazz player: anything and everything is grist for the compositional/improvisational mill—"the tradition" of the past was exactly the same, and is not something static. All the original players over the last hundred years have brought to the music their lives at the present moment, introducing something new and vital. This "new thing" (going all the way back to Louis Armstrong) has turned into a style which everyone else ends up playing. That means only that there are talented but non-original players whose contributions come through exploring some else's discovery.

Willis, who seems to play every instrument with a reed (and even two reeds), has created a real fusion of many disparate styles and sounds. Some may bring back memories of the past, like the use of the Fender Rhodes, wah-wah guitar and electric bass, but that link is always subsumed in the whole, especially when contrasted against what other the players are doing.

Indeed, drummer John Hollenbeck, keyboardist Ron Oswanski and bassists Kermit Driscoll and Stephan Crump are critical to the overall sound in that they provide the ground or the mood against which Willis, trumpeter Chuck MacKinnon and guitarist Pete McCann play. To the extent that Willis has notated the group's parts or at least given an general directions to the players, he is to be lauded for the many different and fascinating sound images they produce. On the other end, the trust he places in the band to fulfill his vision is total and well-placed.

While its multi-tracking, looping and effects make Velvet Gentlemen very much a studio album, I am convinced that a live version of this music could be extremely moving. If getting lost in the record is easy, the immediate experience might even be overwhelming.

If comparison makes for the best description, then Velvet Gentlemen has much in common with releases by his Omnitone compatriots Mick Rossi (One Block From Planet Earth) and Russ Johnson (Save Big).

Bravo.

Track Listing: Many Worlds Theory; Nothing is Real; Place of Enlightenment; Door to Yesterday; Velvet Gentlemen; Closed Loops in Time; I

Personnel: Dan Willis: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, oboe, English horn, duduk, sinai, suona, zura, piccolo, bass clarinet, samba whistle; Chuck MacKinnon, trumpet, flugelhorn, EFX; Pete McCann: electric guitar; Kermit Driscoll: electric bass; Stephan Crump: bass, electric bass; Ron Oswanski: Fender Rhodes piano, accordion; John Hollenbeck: drums, percussion.

Title: Velvet Gentlemen | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: OmniTone


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