|Yo, Kenny-G-force-feedin' NAC S.O.B.s! Tribal Tech bassist Gary Willis has a message for y'all: Get Bent. Figuratively or literally, it's unlikely they'll heed the advice. The sad truth is, the soulless automatons of corporate jazz radio were vaccinated long ago against Willis' brand of Tesh-eating bacteria. But that's not stopping him from doing his thing. Signed to Alchemy Records, one of a handful of labels where fiery, funky-ass fusion still has a home, Willis continues to flourish in an environment of artistic freedom. Bent, his second solo disc of burning jazz-rockery featuring extended improvised passages and raging solos, transplants the vibe of classic Weather Report and Head Hunters into the late 90s with some modern sonic surgery. The roster of doctors who assisted is impressive: stickologists Dennis Chambers and Kirk Covington, sax therapists Steve Tavaglione and Bob Berg, and synthiatric specialist Scott Kinsey were all onboard to ensure the genre survived and thrived with renewed vigor.
-Anil Prasad,Innerviews Magazine, http://www.innerviews.org
For years, Willis was the right-hand partner in fusion crimes with Scott Henderson, in and out of thier group Tribal Tech. Willis' new recording, Bent (Alchemy), is a guitarless outing with ever-resourceful keyboardist Scott Kinsey and saxists Bob berg and Steve Tavaglione. The drum chair is kept mighty and creatively active, between the formidable Dennis Chambers and one track with Kirk Covington, heard most recently as a driving force in the Zawinul Syndicate.
Fittingly, the ghost of Weather Report -that supergroup of the fusion era- slithers through the material, with grooves that are simultaneously pulsing and eccentric, as on "Do the Math." The bent blues of "Bowlegged" has an onomatopoeic loopiness of rhythmic feel, and here Kinsey pulls out some of his archival-to-the-future synth textures.
On the beautifully weird and funkified title cut, abstract undulations finally yield to a quirky head section, then back into space. On the next cut, Willis' supple single-line playing on fretless is featured on the head to "It's Only Music," an exotic, medium-swing tune with Tavaglione taking a sampled-harmonica solo reminiscent of Toots thielemans, all of which adds up to a nod to Jaco Pastorious' pallette. We get a similar echo in the closing tune, "Emancipation," a nice coda to the album.
And why not? Clearly, Willis takes his cues from Jaco's expressive identity, but has added his own range of distinctive ideas and nuances. He's taken the Jaco influence and run with it on a path of his own devising, long past the time when that sound had been commercially popular.
-Josef Woodard, Jazziz Magazine
His strngest assets are his versatile and advanced musical concept on the bass, his compostions, and his choice of musicians to bring them to life. On this release the players are stellar, with tTribal Tech band mates Scott Kinsey (keyboards) and Kirk Covington (drums on 2 tracks) along with Bob Berg (tenor sax) and Steve Tavaglione (sopprano, tenor sax, clarinet, EWI). The power and funk behind most of the tracks fall in the hands (and feet) of Dennis Chambers. Chambers and Willis provide the perfect combination of experienced and creative musical concepts that are a joy to behold. The track "Armageddon Blues" sums it all up with blazing speed, chops, musicality and a great sounding mix provided by TJ Helmerich at Musicians Insitute Studios.
Willis pretty much sets the standard for electric fusion bass playing and compostion with a great tone and endless technique. He is not afraid to strech the boundaries in his music as evident on "Bent" where he allows the players to go 'way out.'
The fretless work on "It's Only Music" is beautiful. The majority of bass playing throught the relase is fretless and simply awe inspiring. If any one bass player has followed in the foot steps of Jaco Pastorius in terms of technique, musicality and creativity, Willis would have to be the one true disciple in todays market. Bent is certainly the best effort by a bassist in electric jazz fusion in 1998.
-Mike Haid, Fuse Magazine
Not only is Garu Willis onbe of the baddest bassists pushing the jazz and funk envelopes, he hires the baddest cats to play on his records. Keyboardist and programming virtuoso Scott kinsey is all over this album, doing things with a Yamaha EX5 that you simply have to hear to believe. Kinsey doesn't just blow incredible solos or lay down perfect voicings; with the sounds he dials in, every note is a three dimensional adventure. Did I mention Dennis Chambers is playing drums? This disc will tear your head off.
-Ernie Rideout, Keyboard Magazine
Tribal Tech co-founder Gary Willis garnered widespread critical acclaim for his 1996 solo debut No Sweat , a release that I found easy to admire but hard to love. I've grown to love Bent, the second solo effort from the talented Texas bassist. Willis takes groove music to another level on this funky and intricate CD.
Bent is a bit less dissonant and far more vigorous than its predecessor. Nine of these 11 tracks feature fat funky bottoms, hard-bopping tops, percolating polyrhythms, and inspired improvisations. From the quirky racing bop of "Armageddon Blues" to the industrial funk of "Bent" to the sinuous grooves of "Bowlegged," these tunes slip and slide, move and groove. Moreover, Willis coaxes some great performances out of saxophonist Steve Tavaglione, drummer Dennis Chambers and keyboardist Scott Kinsey. Kinsey's electric keyboard work is especially inventive, and there's a tangible chemistry between all of these players. Tenor saxman Bob Berg also appears on three cuts, while drummer Kirk Covington plays on two.
At times the vibe reminds me of Miles Davis' Decoy, my favorite of the trumpet master's 1980s releases. Willis doesn't employ a trumpeter, but Tavaglione's EWI sounds like a muted bugle on the slithering "Hipmotize" and the smoldering "Cadillac," two tracks that are most reminiscent of the electric Miles. Tavaglione's turns his EWI into a harmonica on the surprisingly melodic "Its Only Music" and the tropical "Emancipation."
Bent is contorted improvisational music that's high-tech but full of life, and Willis' bass work is extraordinary throughout. Gary Willis is a very clever composer who's taking electric jazz to new places.
-The Popcorn Music Review
Evolutionary Electro-Bopping By Tali Madden
Bent is the second solo disc for the future-bopping co-frontman of cutting edge fusion band Tribal Tech. Willis moves beyond the shred-thud and fast funk of today's electric bassists. Melding the technology of his custom five-string fretless bass and deep jazz sensibilities, Willis unleashes powerful, supple compositions that absorb the listener.
The original ensemble from his first solo disc, No Sweat, is aboard again, including the strong drumming of Dennis Chambers, who alternates here with Tribal Tech drummer Kirk Covington. Soprano and EWI work are still in the hands of Steve Tavaglione, who shares windwork with Bob Berg on tenor. Tribal Tech keyboardist Scott Kinsey carries the torch that Joe Zawinul lit.
Indeed, the electro-bopping here stylistically reflects evolutionary Weather Report/Miles fusion. They take it to the fringe on occasion, as in "Armageddon Blues," but keep it grounded with touches such as Berg's Eddie Harris-style funk saxing. Tavagliones's EWI-mimicked chromatic harmonica, Thielemans-style, is especially pleasant on the breezy "It's Only Music." Willis's bass does not dominate as much as intertwine with his compositions, and the stretches where he does solo ripple with imagination.
Tribal Tech fans should not be at all concerned at the absence of Scott Henderson's rampant guitar. The energy level here percolates along quite nicely for all 11 substantial selections. Willis's understanding of where jazz has been, combined with his very contemporary vision, makes for great music.
-Tali Madden, CDnow
Gary Willis (of Tribal Tech Fame) has recently released his second solo album, Bent. This new release features the talents of fellow "tech-head" Scott Kinsey (Keyboards), Dennis Chambers and Kirk Covington (Drums), and Steve Tavaglione and Bob Berg (Winds). Willis grooves, solos, and comfortably supports his bandmates on all of these original compositions. Throughout the record, Willis masterfully navigates through Chambers' dense note clusters, beat displacements, and metric modulations. "Hipmotize" features some hypnotically spacey funk, while "Armageddon Blues" calls forth end-of-the-world energy over twisting phrases. Willis does some nice fretless swinging with Covington piloting the drums on "It's Only Music." The deep funk factor, wide dynamic range, and high level of group communication. separates this from othe standard fusion fare.
-Rich Redmond, Bass Frontiers Magazine
"Tribal Tech bassist Gary Willis makes his solo debut with No Sweat (Alchemy ****). Accompanied by Tribal Tech keyboardist Scott Kinsey, saxophonist Steve Tavaglione and monster drummer Dennis Chambers, Willis showcases the most facile fretless bass chops since Jaco Pastorius. And he makes his mark as a composer as well with strong pieces like "The Everlasting Night" "Ancient Promise" and the title track. An excellent outing by one of fusion's finest."
If this is fusion, there's hope yet for the genre.
Gary Willis decided to make No Sweat while awaiting the next Tribal Tech project. The ten track CD's title alludes to the informal, spontaneous, less-composed direction Tribal Tech has also pursued on it's last two discs... Gary's exquisite ballads are also present in the form of "Hymn " and "The Everlasting Night"; the latter recalls Jaco's collaborations with Toots Thielemans, thanks to Tavaglione's MIDI-wind instrument harmonica patch. In a revealing turn, Willis exposes his traditional roots on a pair of tunes: The uptempo, straightahead "Stagger" boasts a monk-ish melody and a free-blowing spirit that leads to some of Gary's most wicked soloing to date. On "Easy Street", acoustic piano, sampled trumpet, and Willis decidedly upright concept bring to mind early-'60s Blue Note sounds, with writing that puts most of the "young lions" to shame.
What can we call electric jazz since the "fusion" label has long since been co-opted by purveyors of funky Muzak? Whatever you call it, this CD has it, will to wall - an early Weather Report vibe, but with a cocky '90s edge. Leader/composer Willis motivates the quartet from his fluid, hopping bass guitar, Dennis Chambers jabs like a boxer with his sticks, Steve Tavaglione wails on sax and EWI, and Scott Kinsey fills in the outside voicings and burns his way through several startling solos, mainly on Rhodes and Hammond... This is one of those CDs where people poke their head in the door of the office and say, "What is that?" Crisp production, plenty of dynamics and variety, fine charts, and it swings.
For juiced-up small group fusion, check out Gary Willis' adventurous No Sweat (Alchemy ALCD 1009; 68:49). Leading a wild, yet inexplicably tight quartet, the Tribal Tech bassist crafts oddball pieces like the heavy, off-timed "Stagger," and the bubbling "No Sweat," with tangled Steve Tavaglione sax lines climbing and twisting over Scott Kinsey's purring electric keyboards. There are expressive beauties here, too, like the softly swinging "The Everlasting Night," with Willis duetting in the high register with Tavaglione's EWI, and the resonant "Ancient Promise." Patient listeners will appreciate how tunes like these and the dark-toned "Easy Street" are given time to develop and grow, affording Willis' bandmates plenty of exciting solo improv opportunities, but the effort might be lost on those looking for a less demanding listen.
The final artist dealt with in this overview is bassist Gary Willis. No Sweat (57:30, ALCD 1009) is a kind of retro, '70s-style fusion jazz that draws inspiration from Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and to a lesser degree, Weather Report and even later CTI Records. There are funk elements and synthesizer and keyboard sounds, including what sounds like a Fender Rhodes electric piano, that have that characteristic early '70s fusion sound.