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Dan Willis: Velvet Gentlemen

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File under: Eric Satie Jazz or Quantum Physics Jazz. I don't know f you have to intellectualize the music, only one of the above subjects is necessary for me.

On his third album, multi-reed player Dan Willis reports in the liner notes of Velvet Gentlemen that his writing for this album was influenced by the French classical composer Eric Satie as well as the theories of quantum physics, including what he refers to as the "precision-randomness paradox." The saxophonist indicates that on several of his compositions, he used precise compositional sound loops that, when layered, present a facade of randomness. Willis reports reading an article in which Wayne Shorter had previously explored quantum physics in regards to his own compositions.

With regard to Eric Satie, Willis reports to have been musically influenced by the works of this 19th Century composer, who acquired the nickname "Velvet Gentleman" from Parisian children because he was always seen strolling in Paris wearing one of at least twelve velvet jackets that he owned. The owner of OmniTone, Frank Tafuri, observes that "...don't let the 'quantum physics' stuff scare you off, because this albums's "happening'.. " I'm sure that if I were a quantum physicist or a student of 19th Century classical music, I might be more encouraged to run with the above descriptions, but as an unwashed listener, I'll stay with the "scare you off" theory.

The acid test is, of course, listening to this album, which is quite eclectic. The opening track, "Many Worlds Theory," is straight out of Miles Davis' early electric period, circa 1972. Chuck MacKinnon's muted trumpet leads against a electronica background of synths and dissonance with a Joe Zawinul-type backdrop from Ron Oswanski's keyboards. The closing track, "Grandparent Paradox," builds in a similar fashion and again features MacKinnon's trumpet. On "3:10 Local" Willis' solo on soprano sax and bass clarinet brings some free jazz dissonance to the composition. Otherwise the bulk of this album is mainstream, with a series of sophiscated multi-layered textures from the many reeds of Dan Willis.

Willis plays an extroadinary variety of instruments that include (in addition to the saxophones) English horn, duduk, sinai, suona, zuro, piccolo bass, bass clarinet and samba whistle. The ensemble includes several like-minded musicians: guitarist Pete McCann, bassist Stephan Crump, multi-keyboardist Oswanski and drummer John Hollenbeck. Willis is also a member of the Grammy-nominated Hollenbeck Large Ensemble.

I'm not too sure of how the issues of Eric Satie's writing or quantum physics enter into these compositions. I do have a vague hint of what Willis is trying to accomplish per his "precision-randomness paradox." I do know that when Bill Evans and Herbie Mann released an album in 1962, Nirvana, that included Satie's "Gymnopedies" (Atlantic, 1962), it was a specific reference to that composition. Likewise, when Blood Sweat & Tears recorded their version of the same composition in 1969 for what became their most popular album, Blood Sweat & Tears 2 (Columbia), it was something that one could measure against the original. In the case of Velvet Gentlemen, we need more benchmarks to appreciate his accomplishments.


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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