Spike Wilner Trio

Aliens & Wizards
(Cellar Music Group)

After COVID brought live music to a screeching halt, Spike Wilner, owner of New York’s Smalls and Mezzrow, threw a lifeline to the jazz community. He reorganized as the nonprofit SmallsLIVE Foundation, streaming live shows and posting a vast archive. Now SmallsLive is releasing what Wilner hopes will be the first of many co-productions with the Cellar Music Group. Fittingly, the debut album, Aliens & Wizards, is helmed by Wilner himself.

Recorded at the height of the pandemic with bassist Tyler Mitchell and drummer Anthony Pinciotti, the trio follows up Odalisque from 2017 with a vibrant mix of old standards and evocative originals.

The sprightly opener, “Righty–O!,” Wilner’s keyboard-driven take on his late drummer friend Johnny Ellis’ composition, could be subtitled, “How to have fun in a pandemic.” Ditto the spirited closer, “Trick Baby,” a drumbreak-studded romp with swooping keyboards, pulsing bass and a crystal-clear message: “Hey, we’re playing again, and life is sweet!”

Between are more reflective originals, including the hymn-like “Prayer For Peace,” “Non Troppo” and the lovely bowed-bass “Adagio.” Taken as a whole, Aliens & Wizards mirrors jazz life in the time of COVID while tracking Wilner’s personal journey.

On Sale Now
December 2023
Pharoah Sanders
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