What The Press Is Saying About “Spiral”

Downbeat Magazine
November 2010 Issue
by John Ephland
3 1/2 stars

“With a crack band in pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Tony Marino and Adam Nussbaum on drums, saxophonist Dave Wilson knows how to pick them and the music. Actually, most of these 11 tunes are Wilson's, with a few of the covers suggesting eclecticism: Toninho Horta's "Francisca" and the Grateful Dead classic "Friend Of The Devil".

Eclectic because, as far as jazz albums go, Spiral is pretty standard, straightahead fare, sparked by Wilson's edgy yet loose tenor playing along with vivid comping and soloing by Markowitz, sold support from Marino and sensitive yet fiery playing from the always reliable Nussbaum.

The Title track is an uptempo swinger with a catchy melody hinged on two chords and great playing all around. Wilson's "Movin' On", to take another example, is a good spot to hear the saxophonist's lyrical yet burly tone on this medium-slow swinger, Markowitz's piano adding its own lyrical sheen while Marino and Nussbaum channel their respective Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones vibes. Wilson's "Like GS 2" (the title is a reference to Scott LaFaro's "Gloria's Step", the song a reworking) is a light trio excursion, featuring the leader's Warne Marsh-like playing with Marino getting some room to solo against Nussbaum's tasty brushwork. This swinger indicates a band comfort level both wide and deep.”

AllAbout Jazz.com
Alex Henderson

When an album includes songs by the Grateful Dead, Creed, and Ambrosia, the phrase "instrumental, acoustic-oriented post-bop jazz" usually isn't the first thing that comes to mind. But tenor/soprano saxophonist Dave Wilson's Spiral is, in fact, an instrumental, acoustic-oriented post-bop jazz album that includes songs by the Grateful Dead, Creed, and Ambrosia -- and the impressive thing is that Wilson's jazz mentality is as strong on the rock and pop/rock material as it is on the original compositions that dominate this 2009 recording.

Of course, it would come as no surprise if a smooth jazz artist recorded something by Ambrosia, who were huge in the soft rock and adult contemporary markets in the mid- to late '70s and early '80s. But Spiral isn't smooth jazz; Wilson gets his inspiration from post-bop saxophonists like Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, and Joe Henderson (with a healthy appreciation of Michael Brecker as well). And when he tackles the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil," Creed's "My Own Prison," and Ambrosia's "Biggest Part of Me," Wilson isn't playing the type of vapid, note-for-note covers one associates with Dave Koz, Richard Elliot or the late George Howard. That isn't the scenario at all.

Wilson (who forms a quartet with pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Tony Marino, and drummer Adam Nussbaum) seriously interprets those three tunes, and his solos are equally introspective on six original compositions and a memorable arrangement of Brazilian star Toninho Horta's "Francisca." The fact that Wilson can take songs from Bay Area jam band country-rock, post-grunge, alternative rock, soft rock/adult contemporary, and Brazilian jazz-pop and make all of them relevant to post-bop speaks well of the Pennsylvania-based saxophonist, who is in fine form throughout Spiral.

AllAbout Jazz.com
Karl Ackermann

Saxophonist Dave Wilson was previously a member of two Dave Stahl groups, also playing with the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Tom Harrell, Lew Soloff and Conrad Herwig and studying with the great Joe Lovano. The New York native has released two previous collections as a leader, and is actively immersed in music as both an educator and a business person. Wilson's compositions and covers reflect an eclectic approach, featuring ballads, Latin influences, free improvisation and mainstream jazz. Wilson's and his quartet may well have produced their breakout effort with Spiral; a potpourri of jazz styles from sometimes unlikely sources, it nevertheless flows and holds together, thanks to the multiple skills of Wilson and his band.

The opening title track--appropriate to its name--does, indeed, spiral, jump and swing. Wilson's feverishly fast attack is matched by Phil Markowitz's blistering piano solos as the two set the improvisational tone for much of Spiral. The Richie Beirach masterpiece, “Elm,” demonstrates Wilson's arranging skills, as he takes this complex piece to a place unique from the original. With its Latin approach and slower tempo, “Ocean Blue” represents a change of pace; Wilson's tenor and Markowitz dominate but, in the quieter surroundings, it is a good place to note the nuanced expertise of veteran drummer Adam Nussbaum, who guides and subtly shifts the rhythm throughout.

Perhaps the best display of Wilson's arranging skills are heard on the barely recognizable Grateful Dead classic, “Friend of the Devil.” More up-tempo than the original (as opposed to The Dead's ubiquitous live versions), Wilson's rippling soprano bookends some great solo work from Markowitz, while bassist Tony Marino has sufficient space to platform his virtuosity. Always nearby in the mix, Marino doesn't break out often, but provides a deep, steady and creative backdrop for the saxophonist and pianist. Perhaps the most energized piece in the collection, Creed's “My Own Prison” is another standout rock cover, with Wilson's tenor at its gritty best. That rough-edged but fluid mood continues through “Movin' On,” Wilson's self-described favorite piece on Spiral.

Should it appear that cover arrangements are the highlights of Spiral, rest assured that they are just part of the overall package. Wilson's own contributions account for more than half the numbers and they measure up across the board. Whether the focus is on melody or free improvisation, Wilson is more than up to the task and could not have found a more empathetic collaborator than Markowitz. Spiral is an inventive, high-energy collection with a number of very accessible compositions that should propel Wilson's career as a leader.

AllAbout Jazz.com
Raul d'Gama Rose

The nature of successful interlocking is that the pieces fit each other with seamless perfection. In a group of disparate musicians this is not always possible. However, with the ensemble that saxophonist Dave Wilson has put together the pieces seem to fit with enviable perfection. There is a swirling energy that keeps the unit cohesive; but, more than that, it appears as if saxophonist, pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Tony Marino and drummer Adam Nussbaum were cut from the same cloth. The understanding between each of the musicians is telepathic and often, throughout the long and rewarding set, it feels as if they share one dynamic brain.

Something is always happening in the churning energy of the vortex that is the Dave Wilson Quartet. Usually, Wilson provokes this with the gruff-and-tender miasma that swirls like an electromagnetic field around his saxophone. He gently agitates the very air around him with fluidity that recalls the gentle and throaty persuasions of Joe Henderson on tenor. On soprano saxophone, Wilson favors a drier tone that streams with gilded edges and sharp undulations. His thoughts flow rapidly on both horns, turning out statements of a concrete, poetic nature. If he flutters on the soprano horn it is never too far from the gaiety of the melody. This anchor enables him and his fellow musicians to create great circular clusters of sound, charged with burgeoning harmony.

The modal energy of “Spiral” and the sway of “Elm” do not even begin to foretell what is to follow later on the album. Compositions are challenging and full of surprise. Wilson sets a stellar example in this regard, leading pianist and bassist on a mission to color each with a harmonic palette that is deep and sensuous. His exquisite work on “Movin' On” is just one example. The wonderful take on “Gloria's Step,” that memorable work from Scott LaFaro, follows on “Like GS 2.” The counterpoint provided by Marino's bass, weaves a mesmerizing harmonic fabric with the tantalizing melodic line played by Wilson. Nussbaum is restrained, but with such energy that it seems likely he will burst forth at any time. It is, however, Marino who does the bursting and his solo is taut and inventive. The three-way exchange between saxophone, bass and drums toward the end of the piece is unforgettable.

There is so much on this album to challenge not simply the musicians, but also those who hear the music. This is a record that reaches deep into the soul--something that cannot be said about very much music these days.

August 11, 2010
Chuck Vecoli

If you have ever spent any time in the Lancaster Pennsylvania area, and you like jazz, chances are you have stumbled across this treasure trove of talented musicians. I have had the pleasure of hearing a few of the region's offerings, both in the area and on CDs. Dave Wilson is one of those musicians and the latest CD,"Spiral", by the Dave Wilson Quartet is among those treasures.

"Spiral" is Wilson's third and latest effort. Wilson brings together a band of first call sidemen including Phil Markowitz on piano, Tony Marino on bass, and Adam Nussbaum on drums. These talented musicians make first quality work out of the Wilson compositions and arrangements. "Spiral" gains momentum from the very first cut. The title cut allows for the full expression of the band's individual talent and group synergy. The following cut is a more cerebral arrangement of the Ritchie Bierach composition, Elm. Wilson's soprano work is notable here, primarily for its expansive range of expression within the melody and changes. One of my personal favorites is Ocean Blue, a subtle, swinging number that has summer jazz festival written all over it. The tune is overflowing with the essence of Stan Getz. I could easily be sitting in my lawn chair at Fort Adams in Newport listening to this one! The inclusion of the Greatful Dead song Friend of the Devil was a pleasant surprise. Being a big fan of the Dead, I found it interesting to hear Wilson's interpretation of the song. In true classic Dead form, this song in the hands of a jamming musician becomes their own while still belonging to the Dead! I found the soloing on this cut to be an honest compliment to the tune.

Beyond the Dead, Wilson delivers a sophisticated mix of melody and style on "Spiral". Another tune that clearly grabbed my attention was Summer Breezes. Perhaps it is the season for outdoor festivals, perhaps it is the elements of illusions of the light and airey atmosphere provided by the soprano sax of Wilson, but this cut is one that I could listen to for hours. It is a relaxing but fulfilling composition.

Throughout this CD the sidemen are ever-present contributors to the intent of the arrangements and honor the emotion of the compositions. A standout performer on this CD is Markowitz on piano, a constant compliment to the lead work of Wilson, tying the rhthym section to the lead with a sensitivity that only a master can provide.

The inclusion of Creed's My Own Prison and the amazing arrangement that Wilson puts on this cut seals the deal on my appreciation of his work. If you are not familiar with this tune, check it out, listen to the emotion of the original. Then when you have begun to understand the quality of that song, come back to Wilson's arrangement and bask in the brilliance of this arrangement. I think it is a sign of a solid musician when you can shift genre with a track and have it still be significant.

Movin On follows and further represents the skill in composition and execution that Wilson brings to this work. I share the opinion with Dave on this being my favorite cut on the CD. I determined this because it is his own composition, it has the best sax solo on the recording, and it is drenched in elements that make it an instant classic of tenor sax jazz. I also enjoyed Markowitz's soloing and the solid rhythm work of Marino and Nussbaum. Classic quartet work!

Rolling off of Movin On into another Wilson original Like GS 2, is like sliding off sheet ice onto beach sand, just a different groove! The song is a reworking of the structure of the Scott Lafarro tune 'Gloria's Step', made famous by the immortal Bill Evans in the classic 1961 recording "Live at the Vanguard". This cut features a sweet bass solo by Marino and some very impressive brush work by Nussbaum, that is as musical as a drummer can get! Not since Ed Thigpin have I heard brushes brought to a tune with such aplumb. This song swings!

The closing three tracks are sensitive, and feature Wilson in a quiet mood. Beginning with Remembering, a Wilson original and continuing with Francisica, by Toninho Horta and wrapping up with an arrangement of a pop standard by the band Ambrosia entitled, You're the Biggest Part Of Me. Wilson's beautiful ballad is followed by the haunting melodies of Horta's tune and closes on a particularly mediocre note with the Ambrosia cut. Had it not been for the well executed tenor sax work by Wilson, I would have written that last cut off. What I found was that the group treated this cut as they had all the others with a degree of sensitivity that transcended the original composition and was uplifted by Wilson's own arrangement of the tune.

"Spiral" is Wilson's third effort and demonstrates a growing competence in the role of leader, composer and arranger. The work provides a perfect venue for demonstrating the talent of Dave Wilson and his sidemen. Cuts on this CD rank among the most entertaining jazz saxophone works I have heard. The Dave Wilson Quartet has delivered a most memorable effort with "Spiral".

"SNAPSHOT" Jazz Recording Reviews

Ty Bailey

The performance on this release in a sense is truly a “Spiral”. It’s curvy and it takes a spiral form… This is an awesome quartet that weaves its way through the harmonics, and limitless territories of jazz. Dave’s effort shows he is engulfed in the art of saxophone approaches in playing with the ensemble. The mechanics and textures of his playing can be hardboppish, kool, soft and sweet, and even conjures up aural illusions of the advent guard. Dave displays an intense approach to the music, swirling up and down, inward and outward. There is lots of movement on “Spiral”…Though the music here resembles what may be considered a spiral with its fluidity, continuously fixed center points at an increasing or decreasing distance from that center, the tunes are always accessible...and in the end, the Dave Wilson Quartet makes “Spiral” a worthwhile experience.


Dave Wilson is a saxophonist, composer, band leader and music educator based in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Born in New York State Wilson grew up visiting the jazz clubs of New York City in the 70’s where he saw many of the surviving giants of the music perform. Now an accomplished musician himself Wilson gigs extensively throughout Central Pennsylvania and Philadelphia averaging 150 gigs a year in a variety of jazz and world music styles.

“Spiral” is his third album as the leader of a quartet and follows “Through The Time” (2002) and “My Time” (2006). It is his first release for the Arizona based, nationally distributed, Summit record label and marks the introduction of a new all star group featuring pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Tony Marino and the mighty Adam Nussbaum at the drums. All three have worked extensively with the great saxophonist Dave Liebman and the recruitment of three such heavyweight sidemen signals a conscious attempt to bring Wilson’s skills to the attention of the wider jazz audience.

The material on “Spiral” comprises of six Wilson originals plus five outside choices, three of these   being derived from pop and rock sources well removed from the usual jazz canon. Wilson plays both tenor and soprano and the album is a good advertisement for both his playing and writing abilities.

The album begins with Wilson’s own title track, a tricky, forceful theme rooted in the bop tradition but still thoroughly contemporary. There are exuberant solos from Markowitz on piano and Wilson on tenor with the whole thing being driven by Nussbaum’s precise, energetic drumming.

The second tune is “Elm”, written by pianist Ritchie Beirach, another long term Dave Liebman associate. The piece is the title track of Beirach’s 1979 piano trio for ECM, recorded with bassist George Mraz and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Beirach’s ECM output still sounds thoroughly contemporary and “Elm” is one of his most enduring pieces. Wilson and his colleagues do full credit to its time shifting Latin cadences with Wilson particularly effective on soprano and with Markowitz again featuring strongly with some beautifully lyrical playing.

Wilson’s own “Ocean Blue” has a breezy Brazilian feel with the composer’s relaxed, smoky tenor to the fore. The liner notes describe the piece as being “radio friendly” and it certainly maintains an easy going charm throughout. Wilson and Markowitz stretch out far enough to keep the music just the right side of the dreaded smooth jazz.

Wilson likes to interpret unusual outside material, often from the pop and rock fields. This album’s first foray into this area is a good natured take on The Grateful Dead’s “Friend Of The Devil” with Wilson on relaxedly lithe soprano sax.

The Wilson original “Summer Breezes” sustains the relaxed mood with the leader again probing gently on soprano. The mood alters markedly when Wilson switches to tenor for his powerful, anthemic arrangement of “My Own Prison” by Alt Christian rock band Creed. There’s an urgency about everybody’s playing here that really lifts the album following a succession of rather slight items. The more aggressive stance adopted by Wilson and his colleagues is also “radio friendly” in it’s own way. The Creed original was an FM radio hit and I can just imagine this capturing the attention of curious rock fans.

With Wilson still on tenor the original “Movin’ On” retains something of the creative tension as it broods moodily in a minor key before metamorphosing into something a little more uplifting. The performances here are intense with Wilson really digging in to deliver some of his most powerful playing of the set. Pianist Markovitz, who solos on virtually every number makes a typically fine contribution again here.

Wilson’s “Like GS 2” is the saxophonist’s updating of the late “Scott La Faro’s tune “Gloria’s Step” which found fame on the 1961 Bill Evans album “Live At The Vanguard”. Wilson’s adaptation is charming and with Markowitz sitting out Marino is allowed a spell in the limelight, rising to the challenge with a swinging, inventive, resonant bass solo as Nussbaum’s brushes chatter around him.

Wilson’s coolly elegant tenor is also right on the money in this hugely enjoyable re-imagination of a jazz classic.

“Remembering” features Wilson on a winning ballad performance of his own tune. His own lyrical soprano and Markowitz’s limpid piano are sympathetically supported by Marino and Nussbaum, the latter again showing great sensitivity with the brushes.

Toninho Horta’s “Francisca” sees Wilson stick to soprano on a relaxed and elegant performance that also includes features for Marino and Markowitz. This attractive tune recaptures something of the relaxed breeziness that was apparent on some of the earlier tracks on the record.

To close Wilson chooses “(You’re the) Biggest Part Of Me”, originally a hit for the soft rock act Ambrosia. It’s obviously a song that means a great deal to him and he plays it with a good deal of feeling. His explorations and those of the excellent Markowitz retain the song’s jazz credibilities in a laid back and lyrical performance.

“Spiral” is a well programmed jazz performance with much to recommend it. Wilson chooses an interesting selection of out side material and his own playing, on both tenor and soprano is excellent throughout. His three heavyweight colleagues support him well with Markowitz a particularly effective foil for the leader and Nussbaum’s drumming is a good mix of power and sensitivity. Overall there is good variation of mood and pace, but there are moments when the sound does tend to stray dangerously close to the blandness of smooth jazz.

All round though this is a highly accomplished record and a good advertisement for Wilson’s considerable abilities. However, despite it’s all star cast it’s probably not quite distinctive enough to propel him into the jazz premier league just yet.