From 1992 to 2000, the gifted lineup of guitarist Scott Henderson, bassist Gary Willis, keyboardist Scott Kinsey and drummer Kirk Covington took California band Tribal Tech into the rare air of fusion forefathers like Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Willis is now based in Spain. His new release, Actual Fiction, is his first solo CD since his best, Bent, from 1998. Like his recent trio effort, Slaughterhouse 3, Actual Fiction features Covington as the primary drummer. But there’s no third party like Spanish saxophonist Liberty Fortuny, and none of that trio’s jam-band improvisation. Outside of Covington on five tracks and fellow drummer David Gomez on two, every other sound is made by Willis.
The results often border on techno music. The manic “Cartoon Fetish” sounds like the soundtrack to Ren & Stimpy played at warp speed, as Covington’s programmed-sounding drums lead Willis in a chase of creative overproduction. Swirls of synthesized sounds cloud otherwise familiar funk feels like “Smells Like a Party,” “PodCast” and “Tio Loco,” and Willis presents three unaccompanied bass tracks, the best of which is “If Only It Could Talk.”
The disc’s second half improves through Willis’ percolating interaction with Covington on “Eye Candy,” and with Gomez on the polyrhythmic, nine-minute epic “Mean Streak.” The closing atmospheric duet between Willis and Covington, “Based on a True Story,” nears Tribal Tech through the bassist’s additional treated sounds. Still, there’s no traces of his co-founding guitarist Henderson, or the less-is-more attitude he often provided.