By Cree McCree | Published June 2021
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.
Aliens & Wizards: Aliens & Wizards: Righty–O!; Non Troppo; Adagio; Mindset; Blue Gardenia; Stella By Starlight; Aliens & Wizards; Prayer For Peace; Trick Baby. (46:15)
Personnel: Personnel: Spike Wilner, piano; Tyler Mitchell, bass; Anthony Pinciotti, drums.
Ordering Info: Ordering info: cellarlive.com