Spike Wilner Ensemble
Pianist Michael "Spike" Wilner is a veteran of the New York City jazz scene and a student of Barry Harris and Kenny Barron. He has been playing at the renown jazz club Smalls with his group since 1994. On this disc he presents a program of all original music for a quintet with a guitar/alto front line. In a recent review from the New York Times, jazz critic Peter Watrous said, "Mr. Wilner is completely at home at what he's doing, and in his hands the rules of an idiom disappear, leaving an improvisational flexibilty that's available only to soloists who have really spent time learning their subject."
All Music Guide
"The claim of the title is perfectly founded: it is a mix of jazz which adopts a multitude of colors but remains anchored in that which makes its identity: the blues. It is a reflection of one clear esthetic vision that Spike Wilner is capable of carrying and developing through the grace of his melodic talent, his invention and his sense of construction. In solo, the pianist of Smalls, knows how to keep your interest in the context. More than that, he has built a group sound (the coupling of the alto/guitar is powerfully beautiful) and renews the straight-ahead format by his inventively rythmic compositions ("A Stitch In Time", "Upasaka", "Wyrick's Fable") but without heaviness. He demonstrates what counts here: it's the sincerity of the improvisations. Spike is unleashed; the citation of Bach ("Prelude") and a tension inherited from McCoy Tyner ("Upsaka"). It is a journey without pause or affectation into the expanse of jazz, ever broadening his horizons. The hearty poetry of Wilner is heightened by the elegant clarity of Yves Brouqui and the beautiful sonority of Ian Hendrickson Smith (on the ballad "The East-Village Inamorata"). One finds relatively few composers with the courage to not be "current", with pieces that are characterized by their melodies but cover a large variety of moods (you find this within the same piece: "Spike Strikes", it's funky but also romantic). Pianistically he announces Tommy Flanagan or Barry Harris but with a larger range that is never incoherent. Spike Wilner is in a catagory of stylists who are endearing; inventive, warm: something which jazz needs for its variety and for its renewal."
- Jean Szlamowicz
Translation of review in JazzHot, June 2003
Pianist/composer Spike Wilner got the group together for a month of gigs at Smalls, the jazz club in in New York's Greenwich village, to polish up their chops for the recording session that resulted in A Blues of Many Colors. Time well spent: they put a nice shine on nine of Wilner's compositions.
The ensemble is a quintet, piano/bass/drums rhythm behind the rather unusual combination of a guitar/alto sax front line. And an initial impression of the set is how well the front line blends; lots of unison playing, the guitar seeming to echo around the brassy alto grooves. Sax man Ian Hendrickson Smith has a sweet tone-on a blindfold test the name Phil Woods might come up, and Woods is a straight line back to Charlie Parker.
This is a true ensemble workout; nobody hogging the spotlight, though there is some fine front line soling, with Wilner taking an occasional step out front.
Wilner is a skilled accompanist, in the mode of Harold Mabern, who lately has been sitting in behind Eric Alexander, George Coleman and Ned Otter. Like Mabern, he doesn't call a lot of attention to himself; but everyone around him is sounding great. It's worth a spin or two of the CD just to listen to what he's doing.
A solid set of songs, the highlight perhaps the title track-hot, bebopish, the rhythm relaxed, grooving.