Taking its title from a pet nickname that was applied to composer Erik Satie by children in his neighborhood, Velvet Gentlemen features multi-instrumentalist Dan Willis with a modern mainstream sextet, freely interpreting eleven original pieces. The band covers a lot of territory. The leader plays eleven woodwind instruments on the session, including tenor and soprano saxophones, as well as oboe, bass clarinet and English horn. He's joined by guitarist Pete McCann, trumpeter Chuck MacKinnon, bassist Kermit Driscoll, pianist Ron Oswanski and drummer John Hollenbeck.
Satie, who's inspired many jazz artists through the decades, lends his spirit to this program, which ranges in scope from straight-ahead jazz to a lyrical form of jazz/rock and beyond to more creative pursuits. The variety in Willis' program proves quite persuasive.
Oswanski uses a Fender Rhodes as well as an accordion to color the session with a unique texture. McCann's fiery electric guitar builds the momentum and pushes the envelope higher and higher. He's all over the place, tearing up the floorboards with excitement and lending an ocean of emotional thrills.
Willis, on the other hand, prefers a more mellow approach, leisurely blending multitracked woodwind instruments into a vocal-like performance. On bass clarinet, his lucid phrases are warm, with a clear communicative appeal. On soprano and tenor, the saxophonist speaks the language of jazz's pioneers while forging a unique voice, painting impressions through ballads and gentle romps. His double-reed instruments allow him to express an exotic flavor and adjust the program's focus transparently.
From leisurely and languid to fired-up and frisky, Velvet Gentlemen shifts seamlessly through its colorful moods. As an ensemble featuring some of New York's finest jazz players, Willis' modern mainstream band pushes the creative envelope on this highly recommended program of original music.
Many Worlds Theory; Nothing is Real; Place of Enlightenment; Door to Yesterday; Velvet Gentlemen; Closed Loops in Time; I
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.