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What Has Happened To Gary Willis?

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by Altitude, Feb 27, 2008.

  1. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    Big, big gary Willis fan. I've always appreciated how he has been able to combine monster technique with a really head-bobbing groove approach to fusion. Some of the early to mid Tribal Tech stuff is among my favorite fusion of all. Then, towards the end, Tribal Tech got a little compositionally "free", which appealed to me less.

    Willis then released his first two solo recordings, "No Sweat" and "Bent". Both of them, but "Bent" in particular, are truly outstanding among electric jazz albums with a bass player as the bandleader. Many of the tunes are memorable, the collaborations were well chosen, and the whole recordings were just listenable to my ears.

    Then, last year, Willis released recordings with his group Slaughterhouse 3 and his newest solo, "Actual Fiction". I own both of these, but I like neither of them. Compared to Willis' previous outings, both as a bandleader and a group member, these are cacophonous, lack thematic focus, and really don't even contain bass playing on the same level.

    Perhaps Willis has just taken his act in an artistic direction that is not as appealing to me as what he has done in the past. If that's what it is, that's what it is. But I wonder what other people have thought of Willis' recent work.
  2. Blake Bass

    Blake Bass Supporting Member

    Jan 10, 2006
    Montgomery, Texas
    I've been to a couple of Gary's clinics and I've always really enjoyed his playing in that setting, hearing him blow over the changes to jazz standards is amazing. But I can't even listen to an entire tribal Tech CD without feeling drained and I didn't care at all for any of his solo stuff. "No Sweat" or "Bent". Maybe I am just not advanced enough harmonically and rhythmically, to really appreciate what is going on.
  3. Tslicebass

    Tslicebass Supporting Member

    Jun 12, 2007
    I will chime in
    I agree with what you said about the Tribal Tech stuff. I am not as huge of a fan of the later stuff... although I can appreciate that approach to improvising and "freeing things up"
    However, I have to disagree with you about Gary's latest album. You have to look at it from a different angle. The simple fact is... Gary programmed almost everything you hear on that album. That fact alone is jaw dropping. I don't know if you have ever tried to program electronic music before but it is no easy task and can take years of practice to master it. Gary seems to have mastered it in a very short period of time (a period of time where he has also managed to move to europe, ,hold a full time faculty position and maintain a full gigging schedule) That to me is nothing short of genius.
    There may be a generational disconnect as well. He is tapping into the electronic scene and you may just not be into that music as much... it seems to be a craze now.. hopefully not a fad.
    In regards to his bass playing being sub par... I have to flat out disagree with you here. His grooves are better than i have ever heard before, especially on "Podcast" and "Take me to your leader". His soloing is also top notch on "Mean Streak". And "Say Never" might be one of the greatest examples ever of Gary's uber melodic approach. I transcribed most of the solo but had to give up towards the end because of his finger twisting double time lines... they are simply impossible to play:(:smug:. The album can be a little meandering at times, but overall it is very fresh take on the electronic meets jazz thing.
    I don't have SlaughterHouse 3 yet but it is on order and I should have it by sometime next week.
  4. kazamamaster


    Sep 15, 2005
    Richmond, VA
    +1 on this one. I'll have to agree with this on Podcast and Say Never. The electronic thing is growing on me more since I've been getting into Matt Garrison. Gary Willis IMO has gotten better with time. I enjoy all of the Tribal Tech albums, and even more their improv/free/open stuff seems to be even more beautiful to me....
  5. While I dig the fusion and technical stuff, I also like more experimental and avante garde stuff.

    The early stuff is very dense with 80s sounding synths that make it very hard for me to listen to. Face First and Reality Check are the ones I can start to tolerate. I like the later stuff because they were experimenting with Jungle and Drum n Bass grooves.

    A friend lent me No Sweat and Bent. I haven't heard them in a long time because I have been more immersed in upright players. I just put Actual Fiction on and REALLY like it. I think it shows he has crossed paths with Matt Garrison and Squarepusher.

    As for the bass playing, maybe he's not peeling off traditional fusion type solos, but I still think the playing on these discs is exceptional.
  6. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    What's interesting is that I am connecting with the electronica thing in other areas of my musical world. There are just other areas where I find that I am liking it more. Even in the jazz context, I find Hadrien Feraud's CD, for example, to be much more agreeable than Willis' latest, and it also has a large electronica component in it.

    Outside of jazz, I've been digging into Sound Tribe Sector 9, Groove Collective, and a few others that have some of the same ingredients. Even the band I play in has some drum n bass stuff happening. I suppose I'm just not getting into Willis doing it as much as I wish I were.

    I did not exactly mean to imply that I think Willis' playing has deteriorated, at least not technically. But I do find what he is doing now to be less lyrically compelling to me as what I have heard from him in the past, and there is also an element of funk missing from these new recordings, which happens to be part of what I really liked about his previous stuff.
  7. lefty007


    Jan 19, 2004
    Miami, FL
    I'm with WJ. I personally like the first two solo records, more than Tribal Tech (don't really like Scott Henderson) but the two last records (Slaughterhouse and the last solo) are a bit unmemorable. B+ for creativity and experimentation, A+ for virtuosity, C+ for delivery.

    They sound like a combination of '80s fusion, early '90s drum-'n'-bass, and a Roland keyboard demo song. . .

    There is no substitution for a good melody, and all the programming and note shredding in the world can't make a song good if it doesn't have a good melody.

    My opinion.
  8. jnuts1


    Nov 13, 2007
    i don't know what to say, except Actual Fiction is probably one of the most fresh & hip albums i have ever heard. i can't keep it out of my cd player.

    & Gary has plenty of melody in those tunes. they are just a lot to take in.
  9. jerry

    jerry Doesn't know BDO Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 13, 1999
    I dig the new stuff too! I think Willis is just reflecting the times with his art, I trust his vision! If he did a smooth-happy-jazz album, I'd be complaining.;)
  10. jnuts1


    Nov 13, 2007
    Right on Jerry.
  11. Mikeeltoro


    Apr 10, 2005
    Woodbridge, NJ
    his contributions to Uncle Moe's Space Ranch are outstanding. I think actual fiction is his best solo album. for one, its only him and two other drummers on it. even on top that, he programs drums on some tracks..... and even thoughs drums tracks sound amazing. i loved TT's later material, espically Thick. Slick has , to me, the greatest bass solo ever recorded in studio. Saturn 5 has a sick solo too. Players evolve, and you have to either embrace it, or find new players to fit your taste.
  12. Beta


    May 9, 2007
    The answer is in Mikeeltoro's sig:

    (Please note that I'm not bagging on Willis. I'm not a fan of his music, for the most part, because I'm not a fan of jazz/jam band/experimental stuff. There's no denying that he has awesome technique. His musical choices just don't match what I like.)
  13. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Count me in as a big fan of Gary Willis...from the Alan Holdsworth & Wayne Shorter stints up to Actual Fiction.

    Bent is still a big favourite of mine...Dr. Hee, too. IMO, Thick took on a little bit of a Weather Report vibe. Would add that Kirk Covington's playing level increased big time over these past 5 years.

    While I personally don't hear a 'jam band' thing with Willis...his projects do border on Jazz & 'experimental'. Thankfully, he still appears to be about pushing the boundries of his own comfort zone (would be easy to keep pumping out Fusion-style material...been there, done that).

    Slaughterhouse 3...I mean, c'mon, it's a trio of horn-bass-drums. It will veer 'outside'.
  14. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    I listened to Actual Fiction again last night on a flight. I guess I will concede this - if I had listened to that record thinking it was a new group for me to get into, rather than an old favorite - and without any of my own "baggage" about what I expect a Gary Willis recording to sound like, I would like it more. Strictly speaking, it is a very musically interesting record with a lot of cool ideas happening.

    It does not have very much of what I personally liked the most about Gary Willis' previous music - lyrically delivered solos and melodies over slightly-but-not-too-unorthodox changes, and some interesting time signatures. But I should not discount it on that basis alone.

    The production quality is a step back from Bent, though. The drums on Bent sound wonderful - I still use the first track as an audio system demo. Actual Fiction sounds a little like a basement tape, and perhaps that is what it sort of is.
  15. sobie18


    May 5, 2002
    Shaw AFB, SC
    "Stella by Infra-red High Particle Neutron Beam" from Reality Check is one of my faves!

    Gary can GROOVE!

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