Spike Wilner

(Cellar Live)

Pianist Spike Wilner, manager and partner of the famous New York jazz club Smalls, defends his status as one of the city’s premier trio leaders on Odalisque, his latest live album for Cellar Live. A Manhattan native, Wilner is a jazz institution in his hometown. He’s also one of jazz’s most colorful characters. He can trace his lineage back to a rabbinical dynasty founded by his great-great-great grandfather, Moses Sofer, who was also a Kabbala master and mystic. Wilner was part of the first—and now renowned—class of music students at the New School For Social Research’s Jazz and Contemporary Music Program, which included classmates Brad Mehldau, Chris Potter and Peter Bernstein. The music on Odalisque prides itself on an appealing type of eclecticism, marked by equal parts buoyant swing and pugnacious modernism. “The Upasaka” (the title refers to a follower of Buddhism) launches the program on a note of propulsive soul-jazz; it’s steered down a blazing rhythmic path courtesy of a bluesy ascending riff from Wilner’s left hand and drummer Anthony Pinciotti’s crackling cymbal. Wilner, Pinciotti and bassist Tyler Mitchell bring the same unflagging energy to a rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” with the sense of play and sweetness dialed to the max. The title track (which takes its name from one of fine art’s most famous figures: the nude woman in recline) reflects a slower, more tender side of the trio, with baroque ornaments that evoke a sonic sensuousness. Wilner’s take on Rodgers and Hart’s “Little Girl Blue” is just as emotionally stirring, beginning with slow, rain-soaked gestures that transition into a crisp, swinging trot. It’s among the album’s most arresting pieces, and it attests to Wilner’s ability to connect with an audience.

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