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 toneon 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 trackhot, bebopish, the rhythm relaxed, grooving.