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

Release Year: 1998

Label: Alchemy