Steve Wilson: Passages

Steve Wilson’s latest album, Passages, is no masterpiece, but its elegant, durable compositions and, most importantly, Wilson’s supreme command on the alto and soprano saxophones and flutes make it a pleasure to listen to.

Passages is a populist bop album that lacks any overarching ambitions, but one that sublimely boasts stylistic elasticity, incorporating samba, R&B and ’70s fusion. The jubilant “Song for Anna” finds Wilson’s flute sambaing over Bruce Barth’s optimistic, melodic Fender Rhodes accompaniment. Even though “Eye of the Beholder” doesn’t sound like a fusion tune, the compositional design bears a resemblance to Wayne Shorter’s underrated mid-1980s’ work. On “Grace,” Wilson slyly whispers some vintage R&B, slow-jam naughtiness on flute and alto, while Nicholas Payton fogs up the melodic contours with his smoldering flugelhorn asides. Wilson’s R&B swerve veers towards body-rock funk on “Q-B-Rab” (sort of barbecue spelled backwards) and even when the improvisations get more avant-gardish, the groove still sticks to your ribs thanks to Ed Howard’s boogie-down bass lines and Adam Cruz’s lickity-stick second-line drumming.

With off-the-hook musicality, compositional clarity and passionate expositions, Passages is a fine work that indicates a Wilson masterpiece is forthcoming.