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Dave Wilson: There Was Never

Dan Bilawsky By

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Saxophonist Dave Wilson cuts an imposing figure on the cover of There Was Never, his fourth album in total and his first on the Zoho Music imprint. There's intensity fixed on his face, with eyes closed in concentration and embouchure set for attack. And then there's his tenor saxophone. It has a larger than life presence in the photo. This is the picture of a man on a mission, a leader who knows what he wants, a musician who knows how to handle his horn. The music, thankfully, says the exact same thing(s).

Wilson, a fixture on the Pennsylvania jazz scene, has focused on the quartet format with all of his albums—Through The Time (Self Produced, 2002), My Time (DreamBox Media, 2006), Spiral (Summit Records, 2010), and this engrossing date. But that doesn't mean he's settled on a formula. Quite the contrary, in fact. Wilson is still working things out, trying new things, and altering lineups. He's finding different ways to explore the most familiar of formats and he sounds great doing it. Here, he teams with rising star pianist Bobby Avey, a bold adventurer who dissects harmonies and grooves in unexpected ways; drummer Alex Ritz, a firm yet malleable presence behind the kit; and Tony Marino, a ballasting bassist who happens to be the only holdover from Wilson's previous outing. They make for a strong grouping, a bit more unpredictable and restless than the band that appeared on Spiral.

The album kicks off with "The Time Has Come," a tilted Afro-Cuban winner that finds Wilson marking his territory with some assertive blowing and Avey delivering a choppy statement of his own. Wilson then switches to soprano for a jammy jaunt through The Grateful Dead's "Cassidy" and a euphonious "God Only Knows" that wisely avoids complication. From there he further diversifies. There's a groove-morphing "There Was Never," a song based on "There Will Never Be Another You" that keeps the rhythmic change-ups coming; a vibrant "Smooth Sailing," singing and rolling along with calypso-ish glee; "Master Plan," a number that juxtaposes Coltrane-esque intensity against an open framework that's more in keeping with Ornette Coleman's work; and a Brazilian-based "Feeling Peaceful," a number that's far more mutable than your typical beach-friendly bossa nova.

These are protean players who take joy in stretching an idea, but they never completely upend the music. They create squalls and then weather them together. The final two tracks on the album—a 12/8 rewrite on "Summertime" that's more fire music than spiritual and a free jazz finale dubbed "On The Prairie"—simply further the notion that Dave Wilson is anything but set in his ways. There Was Never is as complete a musical statement as you can come by these days. Dull moments seem to be the only thing missing from this package.

Track Listing: The Time Has Come; Cassidy; God Only Knows; There Was Never; Smooth Sailing; Master Plan; Feeling Peaceful; Summertime; On The Prairie.

Personnel: Dave Wilson: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Bobby Avey: piano; Tony Marino: acoustic bass; Alex Ritz: drums.

Title: There Was Never | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Zoho Music

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