Saxophonist Wilson effortlessly moves from emotional aspects to abstract elements.

Dave Wilson Quartet – There Was Never [TrackList follows] – Zoho ZM 201512, 65:33 (11/6/15) ****:

(Dave Wilson – tenor, soprano saxophone, producer; Bobby Avey – piano; Tony Marino – acoustic bass; Alex Ritz – drums)

When it’s cool outside, you can warm up with saxophonist Dave Wilson. Wilson’s latest outing, the hour-long There Was Never, arrives five years after his previous effort, Spiral (2010), and as usual his music boils and simmers, and is always as embracing as a hot toddy or heated apple cider (or wassail). On Spiral, Wilson led a quartet through scintillating originals and atypical covers. Wilson follows a similar path with his new material, which comprises six originals and three interpretive tracks. This time, Wilson uses pianist Bobby Avey, drummer Alex Ritz and bassist Tony Marino (who was on Spiral). Ritz, Avey and Marino are also members of Dave Liebman’s Expansions band, which means there’s a lot of simpatico communication.

There’s plenty of instinctive liveliness on the seven-minute opener, “The Time Has Come,” which is fronted by Wilson’s commanding tenor sax. If a listener thinks of Trane, there’s a reason. Wilson acknowledges in the liner notes (via a Bill Milkowski interview), “John Coltrane was the guy that got me into playing the saxophone. He was really one of the first jazz musicians I heard and the most influential person I listened to.” Near the halfway mark, Avey provides a bristly solo; and throughout Ritz stirs things up on the 12/8 groove. Wilson shows another side to his composing and playing on the record’s lengthiest cut, “Master Plan,” which includes some of Wilson’s most impressive sax work. Wilson admits Ornette Coleman was a partial stimulus on this composition. The intricate arrangement, Wilson explains, is “basically a concept where the head has a mixed meter, going back and forth between 3/4 and 4/4, and the solos happen going in and out of a B pedal tone in the bass.” Notably, there are no harmonic chord changes, so everyone solos with abandon. If that description sounds unorthodox, it is, but no fear, this tune swings while remaining a platform for Wilson’s spacious soloing. Avey also shines here, swelling to an intense climax and then slowing to supply spiky single notes.

A friendly feeling suffuses some numbers. The melodically genial and upbeat “Smooth Sailing” has a comfortable calypso seasoning, and is a nod to Wilson’s love for being out on the water where propulsion comes from a welcoming wind. Wilson tacks along on tenor, while the rhythm section furnishes a suitably fluid flow. During “Smooth Sailing,” Ritz delivers a distinctive drum solo in the middle portion, and during the second half Wilson quotes from musical sources which astute listeners might identify. “Feeling Peaceful” cruises with a supple bossa nova ambiance. One of this track’s highlights is Marino’s sinuous bass improvisation.

On the other hand, anyone who expects a quiet, mellow vibe on the Gershwin standard, “Summetime,” will be in for a surprise. This eight-minute adaptation takes the well-known composition into some uninhibited areas. Wilson reveals in the CD’s booklet, “I love to play free utilizing overtones and harmonics. In this sense, not only Trane but Pharoah Sanders was a big influence on me.” Wilson further clarifies, “though he’s great at honking and screaming, [Sanders is] also a very melodic and spiritual player. And I try to incorporate both aspects in this tune.” The quartet really stretches out on this reimagined rendition, and Wilson in particular unleashes an outpouring of magic on his tenor, covering the instrument’s tonal range. “Summertime” has also become an audience favorite. This and other live performances from There Was Never can be experienced on Wilson’s website.

The album’s other two covers are also superb. Wilson is an avowed Grateful Dead fan. On Spiral he translated the group’s “Friend of the Devil.” On this CD, Wilson dives deep into “Cassidy,” co-written by the Dead’s Bob Weir (it debuted up on a Weir solo LP before being added to the Dead’s live repertoire). Wilson switches to soprano sax, which brings a lighter but not necessarily an easy tone to the tune. Deadheads may not immediately recognize (or even enjoy) “Cassidy,” because Wilson re-arranges it, and also since the soloing and improvisations twist in and out from the melody and harmony. Wilson states he wanted to “create a collective/jam type of improvisation.” He admirably succeeds due to the involved interplay between the four players, which extends far past the Dead’s inspiration and into music which is Wilson’s own. Wilson also uses soprano sax on Brian Wilson’s lyrically thoughtful, “God Only Knows,” a memorable song from the Beach Boys’ 1966 masterpiece, Pet Sounds. Wilson and the group maintain the wonderful melodic theme, but integrate a solo section in the middle, plus slip in some delightful melodic changes. “God Only Knows” is the record’s most expressive and poignant statement. At the album’s conclusion, Wilson returns to soprano on the engaging and explorative “On the Prairie,” which combines plenty of extemporaneous inventiveness with a transcendent characteristic, and the quartet deftly moves from emotional qualities to nearly abstract ones. [Only MP3 versions at Amazon at the time of this review.]

TrackList: The Time Has Come, Cassidy, God Only Knows, There Was Never, Smooth Sailing, Master Plan, Feeling Peaceful, Summertime, On the Prairie.

—Doug Simpson