185

Dan Willis: Velvet Gentlemen

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

Sign in to view read count
Dan Willis: Velvet Gentlemen It's hard not to like a band that calls itself "Velvet Gentlemen, even before learning that the moniker derives from a nickname given to the velvet-clad composer Erik Satie by children in his Parisian neighborhood. It's similarly easy to appreciate the sound of the compositions and arrangements on this record even before knowing that they are inspired by Satie's idiosyncratic music. Willis sees Satie not as a decorative impressionist composer, but as a proto-serialist, and accordingly draws upon some of the techniques of the twelve-tone classical school.

Velvet Gentlemen is pretty high-concept: not only is there the multilayered Satie connection, there is also a running theme related to quantum physics. (Willis notes that Wayne Shorter is another saxophonist with an interest in this topic.) Several of the song titles sound like they could be chapters in a Stephen Hawking book: "Many Worlds Theory, "Closed Loops in Time, "Grandparent Paradox.

The overall sound of the record, while it is enriched by a knowledge of these conceptual dimensions, is nevertheless readily approachable without it. And that sound is, well, a velvety one, overlaid with sumptuousness. The velvety sound derives in part from the multiple instruments Willis plays in addition to tenor and soprano sax: oboe, English horn, the Armenian duduk and others. Velvety too are the rich ensemble arrangements. In this respect the record is a close cousin to Christophe dal Sasso and Dave Liebman's Exploration (Nocturne, 2006), also marked by rigorously innovative arranging—the common ancestor of both records is twelve-tone serialism. (That, and the Fender Rhodes.)

At times, in fact, the sound approaches, oddly and unintentionally, the lush jazz electronica of Ilhan Ersahin's Our Theory (Nublu, 2006). This is especially on "Place of Enlightenment, where John Hollenbeck's drumming sounds uncannily like an up-tempo dance beat. Hollenbeck, here and on "Gentle Soul, sometimes sounds like he's playing with brushes even when he's not. (As opposed to fellow drummer Jim Black, for example, who can sound like he's playing with mallets even when he is using brushes.) It's all part of the velvety veneer, I suppose.

Willis's saxophone playing echoes the energetic style of the New York '70s loft scene: rapid-fire, questing, veering toward atonality; in this velvety context, it's a successful sound. Pete McCann, for his part, has a bag of many guitar tricks and a knack for always pulling out the trick that sounds, at first blush, all wrong (like his wah-wah funk of "Many Worlds Theory or his synthy intervention on "Place of Enlightenment ): he is either an insensitive buffoon or an iconoclastic visionary—it's hard to tell, but I'm leaning toward the latter interpretation.

With the possible exception of McCann, the solo voices sometimes fail to burst through the velvetiness; but the strong compositions and arranging—the very velvetiness itself—leave a lasting impression.


Track Listing: Many Worlds Theory; Nothing Is Real; Place of Enlightenment; Door to Yesterday; Velvet Gentlemen; Closed Loops in Time; Im Not the Reverend; Uncertainty Relation; 3:10 Local; Gentle Soul; Grandparent Paradox.

Personnel: Dan Willis: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, oboe, English horn, duduk, sinai, suona, zura, piccolo, bass clarinet, samba whistle; Chuck MacKinnon: trumpet, flgelhorn, EFX; Pete McCann: electric guitar; Kermit Driscoll: electric bass; Stephan Crump: bass (3,5,7), electric bass (6,8); Ron Oswanski: Fender Rhodes piano, accordion; John Hollenbeck: drums, percussion.

Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: OmniTone | Style: Modern Jazz


Shop

More Articles

Read Acceptance CD/LP/Track Review Acceptance
by Tyran Grillo
Published: February 26, 2017
Read The Wild CD/LP/Track Review The Wild
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: February 26, 2017
Read This Is Nate Najar CD/LP/Track Review This Is Nate Najar
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 26, 2017
Read Joy Comes Back CD/LP/Track Review Joy Comes Back
by James Nadal
Published: February 26, 2017
Read Apocalypse CD/LP/Track Review Apocalypse
by Julian Derry
Published: February 26, 2017
Read The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door CD/LP/Track Review The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 25, 2017
Read "All Things" CD/LP/Track Review All Things
by Roger Farbey
Published: October 26, 2016
Read "All My Treasures" CD/LP/Track Review All My Treasures
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: November 20, 2016
Read "The Brothers Brown:  Dusty Road" CD/LP/Track Review The Brothers Brown: Dusty Road
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: March 7, 2016
Read "O Horizonte" CD/LP/Track Review O Horizonte
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: December 8, 2016
Read "Seeing Is Believing" CD/LP/Track Review Seeing Is Believing
by Jim Trageser
Published: December 27, 2016
Read "Heartaches By The Number" CD/LP/Track Review Heartaches By The Number
by James Nadal
Published: May 13, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

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!

Buy it!