Multi-reedman and adventurous composer/arranger Dan Willis would seemingly spread himself thin within modern jazz circles. An active participant in New York’s Broadway circuit amid numerous projects, the artist condenses his wide spectrum of influences and thought processes, here on his debut endeavor for this prolific modern jazz record label. Inspired by composer Erik Satie’s music and nickname -- The Velvet Gentlemen -- combined with brainy topics such as precision-randomness (quantum physics), Willis envelopes these disparate slants into a cross-genre array of implementations. But the equalizer resides within the artist’s ability to fuse cool horn charts with jazz-rock guitar lines, Parisian themes and dense fabrics of sound into a palpable program that makes darn good sense. With an arsenal of conventional and indigenous woodwinds at hand, Willis’ breathes fluency and articulately expressed themes into a set that sustains gobs of interest from start to finish.
On "Velvet Gentlemen," Willis’ oboe phrasings set an unlikely paradigm for a piece that develops into a hybrid, hard rock-progressive jazz foray teeming with buoyant choruses and medium tempo swing vamps. In other areas, the ensemble seamlessly glides through Brazilian motifs, spiced up with multilayered arrangements and budding rhythmic undercurrents. In addition, Willis’ composing style is sometimes akin to film-score like attributes, executed by a scaled down ensemble. Hence, he’s a melody maker, which is a component that counterbalances passages where electric guitarist McCann cranks up the volume via a mishmash of distortion techniques. No doubt about it, Willis has delivered the knockout blow with this exceptional and uncannily accessible studio outing.