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Dan Willis: Velvet Gentlemen

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Never let it be said that music influenced by quantum physics can only be appreciated with the aid of detailed liner notes or extensive knowledge of the sciences. Dan Willis created his latest album by re-imagining a journey through the time-space continuum where jazz improvisations get played on top of compositions by Erik Satie. Far from bombastic or highbrow, the multi-reedist has created an album that sounds immediately accessible.

Part of the success comes from Willis the performer. In addition to tenor and soprano saxophones, he plays oboe, English horn, bass clarinet and several exotic reeds. Many appear in the same piece, creating a strangely compelling horn section together with trumpeter Chuck MacKinnon. With an electric rhythm section steering the music, it’s tempting to reference Bitches Brew as a comparison. “3:10 Local” even appropriates the ominous 7/4 riff of “Great Expectations,” which came from the original sessions for that album. But that album was heavily groove-oriented, whereas Velvet Gentlemen gets more of its direction from the melodic structure that Willis creates. Science may have been a catalyst in this album, but Willis’ vast experience-chamber ensembles, Broadway, Michael Brecker’s Quindectet-seem to have helped his mind discover the creative possibilities of this album.