Berkeley, California-raised saxophonist, pianist and composer Dan Wilensky joined Ray Charles’ band as the lead alto player immediately following high school. After spending a brief amount of time studying at the Eastman School of Music, Wilensky joined organist Jack McDuff’s band and moved to New York. The saxophonist went on to cut his teeth working with artists like Cornell Dupree, Steve Gadd, Dave Letterman and studio great Will Lee, Richard Tee and Dave Weckl, as well as going on the road with Steve Winwood. Working with other rock and soul legends like James Brown, Deborah Harry, R. Kelly, Madonna and Donna Summer, among others, has led Wilensky to be featured on over 250 records. As if this wasn’t enough, he did a stint as pianist on tour with Joan Baez. All of this experience has led Wilensky to pen two saxophone method books. If You Only Knew, on which he only plays tenor saxophone, is his second release as a leader.
As with so many of the instrumentalists found backing rock bands on the road, their first love is jazz and that is certainly true with Wilensky. This straight-ahead recording has the charm of four friends getting together in the afternoon, on a day off, to play some music that challenges the mind yet focuses on feel, whether the style is ballads, up-tempo numbers or mid-tempo charmers. Together, they create a recording that delights and impresses, but not by shoving their abilities down your throat. Instead, they take their time to lay out lines with thought and care. It’s obvious everyone enjoyed the moments as they went by.
Wilensky is joined by pianist, author and New York/New Jersey music circles mainstay, Bob Himmelberger on piano, former bassist with Gerry Mulligan, Dean Johnson, and drummer Scott Neumann who has worked with Grady Tate, Chris Potter, Joshua Redman and Kenny Barron. Together, the four veteran Big Apple musicians blow through nine Wilensky originals, the standard “Tea For Two,” and Horace Silver’s “Peace.”
There is an easy rapport between these music best demonstrated in a wonderfully shifting and lilting of backbeat heavy accents on the title piece. Slowing building the tune’s intensity, Neumann is incredibly tasteful and insistently prodding at the same time as he pushes the tune to a great climatic height. Wilensky’s ending solo is full of the fire you can see made him so admired and sought after as a rock musician.
Highlights include a tranquil reading of the Horace Silver composition, as well as the beautifully maneuvered time-shifter, swinger “Train Windows.” This album won’t make you jump up and down with enthusiasm, but then again, with veterans like those found here, that’s not the point. If you enjoy thoughtful, at times introspective playing by those who have already earned their stripes and have no need to show off, then you’ll be totally captivated by this recording.